Marine Biogeochemistry Professor, Chris Osburn @closburn: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Professor Chris Osborn

Dr. Chris Osburn standing among the kelp at low tide on Ile Renote, Brittany, France. Photo copyright: Chris Osburn

NAME:  Chris Osburn

CURRENT TITLE:  Associate Professor, Department of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina (NC) State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, United States (US)

AREA OF EXPERTISE:  My expertise is in marine biogeochemistry though, at one time, I was a limnologist and still study lakes.

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE:  16 years of experience. Worked for 3 years as a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow and 5 years as a Research Chemist at the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. Then, in 2008, I was Assistant Professor at NC State University and have been Associate Professor since 2013.


2000 – PhD, Environmental Science, Lehigh University
1995 – BA, Geological Sciences, Indiana University
1991 – BS, Public Affairs, Indiana University

Website:  Osburn Lab

What’s your job like?

As a faculty member, I spend about 40% of my time doing research, 40% teaching and advising students, 10% in service to the University, and 10% in service to my research profession. My research effort involves traveling to field sites, performing laboratory (lab) work, analyzing data, writing reports and manuscripts, and writing research proposals to keep the laboratory group funded. I teach undergraduate and graduate courses. I read and review a lot of material including student theses and dissertations, manuscripts submitted for publication, grant proposals, etc. I also write a lot of manuscripts, reports, proposals, etc.


The color of organic matter collected on these filters is used to inform us about biogeochemistry in coastal waters. Photo copyright: Chris Osburn

What’s a typical day like?

I am an early riser, so I do a lot of work in the morning before breakfast. I’ll read and answer email in the early morning over coffee then do work on a current manuscript or proposal. Once I get to my office, I spend a lot of time in meetings with faculty and students. I try to visit my laboratory and check in with my laboratory manager and students daily but sometimes that does not happen. I block out chunks of time each day to work on more writing that I need to do, reading some current scientific literature, and, during the semester, preparing for the classes I teach. I usually spend afternoons processing data and conducting data analysis. I wrap up the day by making a list of things to do the following day.

Filtering dissolved organic matter in coastal waters off Key West, FL. Photo copyright: Chris Osburn

Dr. Chris Osburn, filtering dissolved organic matter in coastal waters off Key West, FL. Photo copyright: Chris Osburn

What’s fun?

Field work. I love being in the field and collecting samples to analyze later in the lab. What better way to see the world than to sample it! But I also love the challenge of lab work, as frustrating as research instrumentation can be sometimes. Analyzing the data and creating new understanding of how organic matter flows and cycles through different aquatic ecosystems is fascinating to me. Sharing what has been learned with students and colleagues — discovering the underlying patterns in nature — is fantastic.


Hiking to sample dissolved organic matter in one of the many lakes in Southwest Greenland. Photo copyright: Chris Osburn

What’s challenging?

Like most faculty, I am way over-committed and part of that is because I get fired up about all of the incredibly interesting things my lab group is doing and exploring the opportunities that come my way. Managing my time is the most challenging aspect of my job. Right now, I have a mix of post doctorates, a lab manager, 2 graduate students and 3 undergraduates, all doing very cool work on the biogeochemistry of organic matter in a variety of environments. So, I am responsible for 8 people and in many ways our operation is like a small business. It is challenging to continue to find time to do everything that needs doing while still catching up with my lab group, teaching my courses, managing research projects, reading new scientific articles, writing proposals, and having a life outside of science.

What’s your advice to students?

The best way to start in the geosciences is to get involved. Ask your professors if they have any spaces available in their lab. Be willing to volunteer your time to begin to learn the practice of science. Try to get involved in research projects. Ask questions and, where possible, join in on group discussions of research papers.

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