This was an assignment for all of the new graduate students to start thinking about who and what they want to be, and how they're going to get there. We were asked to address our career aspirations, the coursework and experiences required to get there, sources of funding for our research, and how our career and personal life will jive. Here's what I wrote.
After completing my Ph.D. at the University of Big City, I aspire to teach undergraduates at a small college or university. My ideal position would be teaching biology at a small liberal arts college where I can also do research with undergraduates, lead foreign study programs, and be involved in community outreach related to science education and environmental issues. Conducting research that involves students is widespread at liberal arts colleges, but the other two activities are less conventional.
Off-campus study is an integral part of the student experience at Small Friendly College where I did my undergraduate studies. More than half of SFC students study abroad, and others attend domestic off-campus programs. I participated in three different international programs during college, including two that were led by professors from SFC. These experiences opened my eyes to the amazing diversity of our world and broadened my worldview. I want to lead foreign study programs so that other students will have the outstanding opportunities that I did to see the world from a different perspective. From watching my own professors and group leaders in this role, I know that it is a demanding, 24/7 job. It not only requires expertise in a subject area (ecology in my case); I will also have to coordinate travel, logistics, manage money, facilitate group dynamics, and plan meals. I think this is a job that I could do well based on my attention to detail, passion for teaching, travel experience, experience facilitating group decisions made by consensus, and my own experiences as a participant in such programs.
Although I love to travel, my experiences have taught me that I also need a place to call home. Teaching at a liberal arts college where professors lead off-campus study programs would allow me to travel every few years while having a place to return to. While on campus, I would like to work with college students to do tutoring and outreach programs with K-12 students in the local schools. Developing an outreach program may take a few years if a similar program does not exist at the institution so it may not be achievable by 2017 but it is something I would eventually like to do.
Admittedly, my career aspirations are modeled around my own experiences with the relatively unusual Small Friendly College model of undergraduate education. I could incorporate many of my ideas and goals by working with an organization that specializes in undergraduate international experiences such as the School for Field Studies. A long-term position with the School for Field Studies would require me to live abroad for most of the time, so this is not an ideal end-goal but a potentially useful job to have for a few years. Another way for me to get my travel and outreach fix might be to lead Earthwatch expeditions. This could allow me to maintain a more lively research program while meeting some of my non-research goals.
There are few formal course requirements that relate directly to these goals. I would like to take more math or applied math courses because I think that this is one of my weaknesses and I aspire to be a well-rounded ecologist. It might also be a good idea for me to take more courses in Spanish or another language, depending on where I do my field work.
There are many informal learning experiences that will be important for me to reach my career goals. The first set of experiences surround research. Since I aspire to lead students in international programs it is important for me to do my research abroad so that I can become familiar with the challenges of coordinating logistics in another country. I will need to publish my research and establish myself in my field. Finally, I need to develop a research paradigm that will be accessible to undergraduates so that I can continue to do research in my field as a professor in the U.S. For example, the focus of my research can’t involve modeling using such high level math that few if any of my students can understand it.
I believe it is crucial for scientists to communicate their findings in ways accessible to people who don’t read their painstakingly peer-reviewed publications. As part of the field work for my research I plan to develop an outreach program to communicate my project and its findings to the people living in the area. This will give me experience communicating my paradigm to non-scientists and will hopefully garner interest, support, and possibly even participation in my research.
Since I aspire to a position that is focused on teaching, it is important that I develop my skills as a teacher. Incorporating the feedback received from the students in the courses for which I am a TA will help me become a better teacher. UBC also has the Graduate Teaching Program which will help me create a portfolio of my teaching abilities.
I have found several options for financial support for my research during graduate school. First of all, I will definitely reapply for NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program this November. If I can find the appropriate pitch, I will also apply for the EPA STAR Fellowship. Organizations such as Sigma Xi, National Geographic Young Explorers Club, Association of Women in Science, and Graduate Women in Science offer small grants to help cover expenses. Wildlife Conservation Society, and Sea World Busch Gardens Conservation Fund all offer larger grants that could fund a large portion of my research. Later in my graduate studies I will be able to apply for a NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant.
I do plan to start a family by 2017. I am not sure exactly how children will fit into the picture, nor can I realistically expect things to go as planned. But if I could choose, I’d like to have two children relatively close together to minimize the pre-school time period. When in my career I try to have children will depend on my research plans and post doc opportunities. Perhaps I will try to have kids between finishing field work and defending. I do plan to travel abroad with my children and would seek advice about this both from parents who have traveled extensively with their children and people I know who grew up in traveling families.
I plan to seek advice about my career goals from several Small Friendly College professors with whom I keep in touch, including a young pair of professors who are about to lead a semester-long program abroad with their two small children. Of course, I also plan to talk to faculty members at other liberal arts colleges so that I can develop a broader sense of the types of positions available.
At this point in time my ideal job is quite specific, and I’m not even sure it exists. However, the breadth of what I want to do to is great enough that I would be happy to pursue other careers that fulfill some, if not all, of my interests in other ways. I will remain open to other options that I can’t even imagine yet.