Structural Geology Professor, Cara Burberry @DeformationRox: A Day in the GeoLife Series

NAME: Cara Burberry

CURRENT TITLE: Associate Professor

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Structural Geology


EDUCATION: PhD from Imperial College London, 2008. 
MGeol from Leeds University, 2005.


TWITTER NAME: @DeformationRox

What’s your job like?

My job is 50% research, 40% teaching, and 10% service. At present I’m teaching 3 classes so the teaching load is up high and the research work has to take a back seat. I’ll head over to GeoProjects in a moment to talk about some of the projects that we are doing, but 2 of note are the tectonics of Vietnam and the distribution of penetrative strain in various systems using analog models. I involve students in the analog modeling research as much as possible, so my days involve a considerable amount of student interaction. The service component is made up of being Vice Chair of the department, and working within the IODP community structure. 

What’s a typical day like?

A typical teaching day looks like this: get to work, think about the class notes that are already posted online but that I need to familiarize myself with before I go into class… teach! I’m teaching 101 first, which is our intro class to the geosciences, most of the students are not majors, but need this as a general education credit. The challenge is to make the material accessible and interesting without dumbing it down. Then I’ve got a two hour break between classes, which is usually filled with dealing with email and just right now, working on a research proposal with colleagues – I owe them a page of text, and need to get that done ASAP. My second class is my favorite class to teach, and this week we are going to have a digression on the core and when the core started to solidify, before finishing our discussion on Archean plate tectonics or the lack thereof… This week, I will then have a grading party with my TAs for 101 – we gave an exam last week and have to grade the short answer questions, so that’ll be about three hours of work. Then I go home to my son and cook supper and hang out with him before he goes to bed. I’m one of those academics who then does go back to work for a while, working on that research proposal I mentioned earlier, but this time with wine. My day ends with a chat online with my boyfriend (we’re in a commuter relationship) who is also an academic at a different uni, so it’s easy to share the joys and sorrows. 

What’s fun?

Seeing the students’ faces light up when they “get” a concept… I love seeing the light dawn on them. 

Facilitating a discussion in the tectonics class and hearing the students become more eloquent in forming, stating and defending their opinions.

Working in the lab with my undergrad students, seeing their experiments become successful and their theses come together

That moment when a paper is published, which has been 10 years in the making (this just happened). 

What’s challenging?

Continuing to teach when the students’ faces look bored, which is on me really; grading papers when it’s evident they haven’t understood.

Balancing time between teaching and research.

What’s your advice to students?

Talk to your professor if something is going on that hinders your classwork – we’re human and want to help out!

Find a PhD or graduate work that you really love – it’s hard to stay the course, but this helps

Communication (both ways!) is key!

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