Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Career Profile: Planetary Geologist: Dr. Justin Filiberto

The AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy and the AAS Employment Committee have compiled dozens of interviews highlighting the diversity of career trajectories available to astronomers, planetary scientists, etc. The interviews share advice and lessons learned from individuals on those paths.

Below is our interview with Justin Filiberto, a planetary scientist/geologist working at Southern Illinois University and The Open University.

For access to all our Career Profile Project interviews, please visit http://aas.org/jobs/career-profiles. New Career Profiles are posted approximately every month.

What field do you currently work in?
Planetary Geology

What is the job title for your current position?
Associate Professor and Visiting Research Fellow

What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
Southern Illinois University and The Open University

What city, state, and country do you live in? Work in?
Carbondale, Il 62901, USA

What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received?
PhD in Geology

What was your last academic position in astronomy/physics?
Current position

Describe job hunting and networking resources you used and any other advice/resources.
AGU Career center website was vital when I was looking for jobs.

What has been your career path since you completed your degree?
My career path has not been a direct path towards planetary geology. Instead, growing up on Long Island, NY, I developed an interest in the oceans and decided to major in Marine Biology. I went to the University of Miami because it is one of the best schools in the country for Marine Biology. While I was there, I started taking classes in geology, specifically in coastal processes, and realized that geology gave me more opportunities that I enjoyed; so I switched my major to Marine Science and Geologic Sciences. I was very fortunate that the geology program at University of Miami ran week long field courses over spring break around the world. The first one that I went on was to an active volcano in Mexico City, which started my passion for igneous rocks. From there, I decided to purse my PhD in igneous petrology and went to Stony Brook University, SUNY. At Stony Brook, I started working on high pressure experiments to investigate the formation and evolution of Hawaii-style magmas.  While I was working on this project, we received a NASA grant to investigate the magma diversity on Mars, specifically the potential for alkali-rich magmas. This gave me the background needed to go to the Lunar and Planetary Institute to work on Planetary Materials as a postdoctoral fellow, to Rice University as a postdoctoral fellow, and now a professor of petrology and planetary geology at Southern Illinois University, USA and a research fellow at the Open University, UK.

Describe a typical day at work. 
I typically teach 1 or 2 classes a semester giving me time to balance classroom teaching, mentoring graduate (MS and PhD) and undergraduate students, running experiments, and writing manuscripts.
How many hours do you work in a week?

What is your salary?
Average salary for an associate professor at SIU is between 70k and 95k for a 9 month salary.

What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
Going through my PhD, I always thought I wanted to be a research scientist at a national laboratory or a NASA center, but my current job is the ideal position for me. I love the balance that my position gives me of training the next generation of scientists in the lab, teaching undergraduates and watching as they deal with a challenging topic and finally understand it, as well as doing cutting edge science in my lab.

The least enjoyable aspects of my job are similar to many others: paperwork, administrative responsibilities, and in practice anything that takes me away from doing research or training students.

What do you like most about your working environment? Dislike most?
I am in a wonderful department. We get along incredibly well, are very collegial, and come from diverse geologic backgrounds. This has helped me branch out to fields beyond planetary geology. I am currently working on projects focusing on the spectroscopy of coal, terrestrial mantle mineralogy and the magnetic signature of xenoliths, and fluid mobility and sulfur mineralogy at a Mars analog site, beyond my main research focus.

The thing I like least is the dependence of our stability on having a state budget. The state of Illinois does not have a state budget and has not for a few years. Being a state school, our funding is largely dependent on the economy of the state (both in terms of actual dollars, as well as students); therefore without a state budget, things at SIU are uncertain.

What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
Being a professor, with the security of having tenure, gives me the freedom to be as creative with my research and teaching as I would like. I have the resources in my laboratory and students in the department to try a new research project and push current boundaries – even if they may not amount to a publishable paper.

How family-friendly is your current position?
My position is very family-friendly and my colleagues are incredibly supportive. My husband and I recently adopted a baby and my department was very supportive covering my classes when we had to be away and throwing us a baby shower. I have been able to balance my classes with my time at home with her as much as possible. The university also has a great paternity leave program with 4 weeks paid leave that does not have to be used concurrently.

What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
I have always made sure to take at least 1 full day off of work a week. This means not checking work email, going to the office, or grading papers. It is too easy to check email for 5 minutes, and be lost for hours to work. So checking out of work completely for at least 24 consecutive hours a week is vital for my family.

What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
Well this changed pretty drastically 3 months ago when our daughter was born, but before that I enjoyed going to baseball games, going to the theatre, and traveling. Now my life revolves around baby time when I am not at work. 

Can we include your email address for people who may want to contact you directly about your specific career route?

Yup, Filiberto@siu.edu