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Find the Path to Survive and Thrive in your Context

A sustainable and happy career in GER depends on finding a path that works well for you in your setting over the long-term. The following are advice from geoscience education researchers at the 2016 GER workshop on how to survive and thrive in your context.

Understand where you are institutionally and what you need to advance.

Geoscience education researchers exist a a wide range of professional settings: K-12 school districts, 2-year colleges, 4-year undergraduate focused programs, 4-year MS or PhD granting institution - regional universities, Research universities, museums and non-profits, federal and state agencies, and industry. What type of institution do you work in? What are the metrics and expectations for success and advancement? Consider the variance in job duties, daily routine, resource availability and reward structures in the range of institutions that house GER people.

Understand what is valued, allowed, or discouraged in your setting.

To understand this, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do your duties map to your interests? If you can find a way to dovetail your interests in research, or curriculum development with your duties, you will generate added value for your organization.
  • Are you connecting with and leveraging the work of others in your immediate department or unit? For instance, if you are in a research university, can you provide strength in Broader Impacts for an NSF proposal?
  • Are you finding ways to collaborate across sectors? For example, if you are at a 2 year college, is there an opportunity to collaborate with industry or a nearby regional or research university in a way that will be valued locally?
AGI is collaborating with AGU to provide Geoscience Heads and Chairs a monthly webinar series on topics critical to supporting geoscience academic departments. While initially designed for geoscience department administrators, faculty are also welcome to register for this webinar series. The topic of the webinar in March 2016 was "The Benefits and Challenges of having Geoscience Education Research Faculty in your Department".

Expect significant variance in resources, expectations, and depth of intellectual and methodological support.

Reach out to other content area units or departments to get help fill gaps in your own skill sets. Colleges of Education, psychology or sociology departments, ethnic studies, and others can be good resources outside of your geoscience department.

Consider how much of what you do is "sweat equity" alone and look to find programmatic funds to help support some of those efforts. For example, are there internal sources of mini-grants or other internal funding streams that can be turned to spur GER work or implementation? Such as:

  • Institution-wide assessment or SoTL efforts often have small funding streams available.
  • Teacher education programs: if they are robust or part of your duties, can these be leveraged for GER work?
  • Outreach programs: often just a service duty, but possibly a GER opportunity.
  • Service learning: mini-grants may be available at institutions for curriculum development in this or other cross-disciplinary pedagogical areas.

Manage the academic trinity to get promoted: Teaching, Research and Service.

  • Understanding expectations and reward structures - if you are tenure-track, don't do much that's not "tenurable".
  • Dovetail multiple aspects of your work, make sure you have a coherent plan and can present your academic goals to colleagues locally. See one strategy for this in St. John, 2015, JGE, 64(4).
  • Convince colleagues of the value of GER outputs in their context. Show them how GER is geoscience, show them how your work enhances their lives, and improves your students' outcomes.
  • Watch out for "other activities". GER people - at all levels - are typically asked for larger service contributions than non-GER geoscience colleagues. This is largely because they have time and capacity, but time is finite. Remember to reserve time for your research and teaching, and pick your service activities strategically.
  • Make sure your publishing outlets are respected and acknowledged as worthy by tenure and promotion committees.
  • Make the case for non-traditional conferences and national activities that support your research and teaching.
  • Approach large, programmatic grants (Noyce, REU, teacher professional development, etc.) carefully. They are often large dollars-wise, but also typically involve much more management and sometimes fewer research opportunities.

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