Interview with Jennifer Maki
Date: March 7, 2012
Name: Jennifer Maki
Major, minor, and graduation year: Chemistry major with a biochemistry emphasis, 2000
Job Title: Associate Professor of Chemistry
Organization/ Place of work: The College of St. Scholastica
You're an Associate Professor of Chemistry, what does that entail? What are your duties or responsibilities?
-I teach general chemistry, biochemistry and associated labs. The great majority of my time is spent in the classroom, writing and grading tests and mentoring students. In addition to teaching, I perform research with undergraduates in my laboratory.
What are the highlights of your job that you enjoy most?
-Mentoring undergraduates is the best part of my job. This occurs most frequently in the research lab, but also in advising them as to which courses to take or internships to pursue. Working with students one on one or in small groups is the most enjoyable; especially when your student figures something out and has that a-ha moment that all teachers love.
What are the challenges that you face with your job that are not enjoyable?
-There is never enough time for research; the teaching load and service requirements can definitely take up the great majority of my time. It can also be challenging when I can't take a full day off per week; working evenings and/or weekends is part of the job.
How do you spend your work days? Do you spend a lot of time office/lab/meetings/outside/___?
-I spend much of my time in my office working on class activities, notes, grading and research. I also spend a good amount of time in front of the class and a smaller amount of time in my laboratory with my research students. In addition to these duties, I also serve as the Program Director for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) on our campus. This program supports students in the sciences in an attempt to promote the sciences and increase the number of graduates in these fields.
How did this type of job/field interest you and how did you get started?
-When I was in graduate school, I had much success with my research, but the long hours with a very small group of people became tedious and I craved more broad social interactions. When I started my first teaching assistant (TA) assignment, I realized that I wanted to teach. My role as TA seemed like play in comparison to my bench work in the lab. I had also enjoyed my math tutoring job at UWS immensely and had always functioned as a tutor for my peers.
What qualifications did you need to obtain this job?
-A Ph.D. in biochemistry and teaching experience were the major requirements.
What personal qualities or abilities do you believe contribute most to success in this job/field?
-To succeed as a professor, you need to be dedicated and extremely patient. I find patience to be the most important trait that I am still developing; working with students is equal parts rewarding and challenging.
What organizations were you involved in College that helped you towards your career?
-As I mentioned, I served as a math tutor. I performed research with Drs. Lane, Nelsen and Kemnitz as an undergraduate. My projects were biological, chemical and biochemical in nature. I also worked for Kurt Schmude in the Lake Superior Research Institute at UWS analyzing wetland samples. All of these experiences helped me to obtain multiple offers for graduate school.
What degree/s is appropriate for this line of work?
-A Ph.D. is required at four year colleges; an M.S. for teaching at a Community College.
Where and/or what do you hope to be in 2-5 years? 5-10 years? What are the keys to this career advancement?
-I hope to be promoted from Associate to Full Professor and will likely serve as the Department Chair. I am also curious about future positions in educational administration. In order to achieve these goals, I need to continue performing research and accepting any leadership roles available in the meantime to build my portfolio.
What was the best piece of advice you received and from who that helped you towards your career?
-In graduate school, the TA coordinator at Iowa State University, Desi Gunning, told me I could be anything I wanted and would be great at it. That was important for me to hear; many of the faculty at the graduate level don't value the teaching aspect of the job and view it as a chore. Desi validated my choice to be a professor at a small college and emotionally supported me through graduate school and beyond.
Do you have any advice or "words from experience" for a college student interested in this job/field?
-It's a great field to be in; there are many different career paths you can follow with a degree in biochemistry or chemistry in academia, industry or government work. Teaching is just one option, and you should pursue what you love.
Many students don't realize that in the sciences, graduate school is paid for and they pay you an annual salary and provide benefits. You can also defer any undergraduate student loans while you pursue an advanced degree.
If you knew all this back in college, what would you say were the most important classes? Is there anything you would have paid more attention to? Any additional classes you would have taken?
-The biochemistry and chemistry tracks are extremely comprehensive and don't leave much room for electives. I would have taken more classes in topics that interested me for fun. I am grateful that the general education curriculum forced me to take symphonic band and trombone lessons; I enjoyed that experience tremendously.
In college, people claim that a bachelor's degree isn't enough anymore and that you need a master's or doctorate degree to get your foot in the door. What's your opinion?
-It absolutely depends on your field. Internships or research experiences can also get your foot in the door. I think employers are looking for evidence that you are serious about the field and willing to work hard.