NAME: J. J. Delfino
CURRENT TITLE: Professor Emeritus, Environmental Engineering Sciences, University of Florida.
AREA OF EXPERTISE: Field of specialization is water resources, with aquatic chemistry as the key specialty. Broader interest involves industrial ecology which, according to some writers, is the science of sustainability. This work is somewhat off point compared with the majority of fields dealing with geology. However, geology does influence the chemistry of natural waters and the ocean quite a bit, so in that regard, aquatic chemistry is tied in closely with geology. In fact, it’s quite close as a “wet” version of geochemistry.
YEARS EXPERIENCE: Total academic career at two universities has been 45+ years.
What’s your job like?
An academic job is one of the best that a scholarly oriented professional scientist and engineer can expect. A faculty member generally can choose the courses one wants to teach and can conduct research in areas of his or her areas of expertise, particularly where one can successfully obtain funding for said research. Yet, research funding is getting more and more competitive and in some areas, making things more difficult to meet annual performance goals and to have funds available to support graduate students on research. After the research is completed, the participants get to write up the work for publication and also have the possibility of presenting the work at a professional society meeting at the national, regional or state level. It’s fun!
What’s a typical day like?
Preparing for, and delivering course lectures, with the actual class activity consisting of both lecture and questions and interactions among the instructor and the students in the class. It’s fun to get students who are otherwise reticent to talk in the classroom to actually participate in discussions. Faculty meetings, committee meetings and meetings with graduate students dealing with research projects take up part of the day. Office hours or open door policies result in students visiting the office to discuss lecture material, homework problems, test taking strategies and additionally, general concerns about grades, summer internships, jobs after graduation, and the like. Then, there is answering lots of email and survey questions like this blog post!
Every day is fun as described above. Every day is a chance to learn something new, from reading in print or on-line, from discussions with colleagues and students, etc. The only things that are “less fun” are meetings that drag on too long, because no one has the courage to “call the question” and keep meetings on their published agenda schedules. If this could happen, every day would be 100% fun. If one is willing to work hard and have an interest in learning and doing research, an academic job has to rank very high in the order of fun jobs. One meets interesting people every day, most of them being very smart students. In fact, if academic salaries were closer to industry and even some government salaries, the job would be total fun. It’s close to that anyway!
Sustainability, in particular, is busting out everywhere — on campus, in local and state governments, etc. Companies have discovered sustainability and in particular, have found that acting and encouraging sustainable behavior can result in a “green stamp of approval,” but more important, it can have an actual positive influence on the environment and also result (over time) in a more profitable business. Authors Esty and Winston named their book: “Green into Gold,” to describe those companies that have adopted sustainability as part of the daily activities and include it in their corporate behavior. Those companies have done well on their bottom lines and also for the planet. Little by little, more and more companies are learning the advantages of being sustainable. Chemistry and water fit right into this discussion, as many companies are highly dependent on water. Climate has also become a major consideration in the sustainability discussion.
What’s your advice to students?
Many students ask how they can get sustainability jobs. This can be a challenge since there are many of them out there but relatively few students can get them right out of school, regardless of degree earned. Best suggestion is to get prepared and earn a degree in a traditional field in science, engineering [STEM] and even business, preferably trying to combine a recognized major [e.g. chemistry] with environmental science, or environmental engineering with either a MBA or a JD. Students have to be willing to work hard, learn a basic academic skill field and then be ready to branch out from there. Sustainability majors without a traditional skill are likely to be hired into more entry-level jobs that may not allow much growth, but those who earn degrees in STEM fields have much better long-term options available to them. The environment needs well-educated defenders and healers, and the sustainability world needs them to guide individuals, corporations, governments, i.e. society in general, to a place where positive actions lead to positive results.