I’ve recently made a career transition and it’s taken me some time to process the change (or perhaps announce the change here). I decided to leave Kent State University and (full-time) academia at the beginning of the summer. I wish to thank the many wonderful people I had the chance to work with at Kent State and I appreciate the opportunity to have been a member of the Geography faculty (… and I fully recognize many, many people want the job I walked away from). The appreciation and genuine gratitude from students that took my courses and worked in my lab has been overwhelming and humbling. I am most proud of the supportive, collaborative, and diverse lab that we built during challenging times. Science is hard and often unfriendly – students need a safe and supportive place to explore. A big thank you to all of the unique young scientists that helped me achieve this effort – it has been a privilege working with you all. I will stay on as affiliate faculty to advise my remaining graduate students and post-doctoral scientist and continue to serve on graduate committees for the next year or so.
I am several months into my new position as an Interdisciplinary Geospatial Ecologist with the Bureau of Land Management’s National Operations Center where I plan to build a program to integrate remote sensing more fully into the Assessment, Inventory & Monitory Program. For me, this marks a return to applied science, where I have deep roots working in the Department of the Interior, and a return to my community in Colorado. I’m very excited to be part of a supportive and highly collaborative group of people and I look forward to serving as a bridge between scientists and natural resource managers. I’m embracing the view of Chris Jackson, a highly successful geoscientist who recently departed from academia: leave your ego behind and view yourself as being just a part of a larger effort. My ultimate goal is no different than what I’ve been striving for my entire career: to provide sound science to resource managers and policy makers to help shape ecosystem management and conservation as we move into an uncertain future. Now, I just look at this from a slightly closer view than before.
My decision to leave was not easy and one I wrestled with for quite some time – I suppose I’m now part of the exodus of early and mid-career academics. There were significant pull factors at play, along with numerous push factors (that I won’t go into too deeply) that influenced my decision. I became disenchanted with parts of academia for a few reasons, no doubt many amplified by starting my position five months before the pandemic. Academia is in a precarious place, unfortunately for some unfounded and ludicrous reasons, but also from demographic and economic forces. I don’t have many answers, but paying more attention to our students is probably a good place to start. Professors – be on campus more often, and when you’re there, maybe be a little more approachable? Tenured professors - reach out to early career academics and pre-tenured faculty more often. And please, please value teaching, course development and mentoring more than we currently do (especially in today’s changing academic landscape). Administrators – value your faculty and have more realistic expectations of us. So many aspects of the field are incredibly unhealthy, and I believe things are increasingly headed this way. Reel us in through constructive means so we don’t burn ourselves out more than we already are. Many aspects of the tenure process are antiquated and miss the mark of what many of today’s pre-tenure professors are asked to do (… and I say this as a straight, white male – it’s worse for underrepresented faculty). And finally, please take note of faculty turnover at your institutions (just because there are many more people that want these jobs doesn’t mean we should ignore what’s been going on). That is all for now (have a mentioned I don’t have many answers?).
I’m not severing all ties with academia forever, and I might return in some capacity at some point. I’m not sure what will become of this space, but stay tuned. Until then, happy trails!
Top image: The South Pacific Ocean viewed from Cerro Oncol (715 m) in Parque Oncol, Los Ríos Region, Chile.