Describe what you do on a day-to-day basis.
Every day of my job is different. My program has expanded to eleven states, which requires that I coordinate and manage around seventy people, most of whom are volunteers. I usually have three or four meetings a day, either on the phone or in person, and talk with a lot more people through email. Some days I go out and work with the public at large and small events. Other days I analyze data and figure out how to present it to different audiences, travel to give talks or network with new organizations, or try to raise money for my projects through grant writing and networking with potential donors. I also try to write a couple thousand words a day on my various projects.
How did you find your first job out of academia?
I told all my friends I was on the job market and I started applying to a lot of jobs- all kinds of jobs where I thought I would be of use, both in and out of the academy. A friend of mine who is a tenure-track academic saw my current position posted on an ecology listserve and thought it would be perfect for me. She was right!
What is your favorite part of your current job?
My job has a lot of meaning to me. I like talking with lots and lots of people, finding out what needs their communities have around science education, and doing what I can do help meet their needs. I know I can’t solve society’s big problems all by myself, but I know I can do my part.
What are the unique challenges of this line of work?
I provide vision and leadership to a lot of people, and need to convey that vision to many different audiences. I need to be hugely self-motivated and very organized. And I have to remain open and able to emotionally connect with many different people, most of whom are very different from me. That combination of traits- the human connection stuff and the serious mixed methods research background- I think that is fairly rare, and definitely presents a unique challenge. Being a good human subjects researcher requires a very careful, very deliberate balancing of these traits.
Tell us about your academic background
I used to help send germs into space, but I realized I was in the wrong line of work. It was more exciting to me if I could help keep systematically disadvantaged students from failing out of university than it was to see our payload go up on the shuttle. I knew there were ways we, as an academic community, could better serve these students, and I felt a moral obligation to work on the problem of access and power in science education.
When I asked dozens and dozens of smart, failing students why they were struggling, they all told me their problems were related to the language of science. So I spent quite a few years studying how various ways of speaking and parts of speech influenced learning in science classrooms, using a mixed methods approach. Through my research I developed reproducible techniques that now help me and others in my organization make science more accessible to people all over America.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking for a job now?
You have worth beyond what you do. If you let yourself get too sucked into job app/interview anxiety, you’re just going to become obnoxious to yourself and others. Remember what you’re worth.