Associate Professor, Paleoclimatology, @DanPeppe: A Day in the GeoLife Series

NAME:  Dan Peppe

CURRENT TITLE:  Assistant Professor of Geology (Update: Promoted to Associate Professor in Spring 2015!)

AREA OF EXPERTISE:  Paleobotany, paleoclimatology, sedimentology and stratigraphy, paleomagnetism

YEARS EXPERIENCE:  11 (5 as graduate student, 1 as post-doc, 5 as Assistant Professor)

EDUCATION:  BS in Geology, St. Lawrence University; MPhil in Geology, Yale University; PhD in Geology, Yale University


What’s your job like?

Dan Peppe, Ethiopia field work

Dan Peppe, Ethiopia field work

My job is quite varied and depends on the time of the year.  As an Assistant Professor my job is split between research and teaching.

During the academic year, I spend most of my time teaching, advising students, conducting research in the lab, and working to write up the results of my research projects.  My lab research is focused on preparing, identifying, describing, and analyzing fossil leaves and on analyzing paleomagnetism samples.

Between semesters in the winter and during the summer months, I spend most of my time doing research. Most of my research is field based, so I normally spend at least a few weeks in the field each year collecting samples to bring back to the lab.  Fieldwork has taken me all over the world including field sites in United States, eastern Africa, the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, and southeast Asia.

What’s a typical day like?

Right now during the academic semester, I teach on Tuesday and Thursday, and during those days, I spend time preparing for class, grading assignments, and teaching class. Between classes and class prep on Tuesday and Thursday, and during days when I am not teaching (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), I spend some time each day in the lab running paleomag samples, looking at fossil leaves, troubleshooting problems with instruments and lab equipment, and meeting with each of my graduate students at least once a week to talk about their research projects.  In addition to working in the lab, I try to spend at least some time each day writing and editing manuscripts and grant proposals. In addition to that writing, I inevitably spend time each day doing other tasks that periodically pop up such as writing reference letters, doing grant and manuscript reviews, completing grant progress reports, etc.

What’s fun?

The thing I like most about my job is that I am constantly working to answer questions that interest me.  All of my research projects are focused on some aspect of trying to understand how terrestrial ecosystems respond to climate and environmental change, so I’m always working towards addressing that question in different places in the world and different times in Earth history.  As a big bonus, most of this work takes me into the field and I love spending time outside exploring, collecting fossils, and looking at rocks.

I also love that my job affords me the opportunity to travel around the world for research projects, conferences, and collaborations with other scientists.  I’ve been able to go to some amazing places and meet so many interesting people.

What’s challenging?

For me, I’ve found the biggest challenges are figuring out how to best budget my time and being about to say “no”.  As a professor, there’s no real set schedule and you really only have a few times a week when you have to be somewhere doing something (class time, faculty and committee meetings, seminars, etc.).  That means that most of your time is up to you, which is both a blessing and a curse, because you can spend time doing things you find enjoyable, but you can also end up spending your whole day doing a whole bunch of small tasks that keep you from doing the things you want and/or have to do!  Finding that balance between preparing for classes, conducting research, advising students, and doing all of the administrative tasks set before you is a hard one and is something that I’m still working on even after 5 years as a faculty member.

The other big challenge is learning how to say “no”, which is just another part of time management.  It seems that there is always something to say “yes” to, from a new research project that you might not have time for, another student meeting, another committee to be part of, or another paper or grant to review.  Learning how to say “no” to those kinds of things is a hard thing to do, but is really important or before you know it, you’re over-committed.

What’s your advice to students?

My advice to students is to always be curious and explore things that you find interesting.  If you like what you do, your job will be interesting, fulfilling, and always exciting.  Another great thing about exploring things that you think you’re interested in is that you actually learn the things you like to do and things you don’t like to do. In my experience, learning about the things you don’t like is often more informative than learning about the things you like to do, because it can help direct your research and guide your choices about future jobs.

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