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USGS Scientist New AGU President

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We speak with Carol Finn about her new appointment to be the President of the American Geophysical Union as of July 2010.




Public Domain.



Marisa Lubeck: Welcome, and thanks for listening to this USGS podcast. I'm Marisa Lubeck. Today, I'll be speaking with USGS Scientist Carol Finn who has recently been appointed President of the American Geophysical Union, effective July 1, 2010.

Carol is here today to tell us about her career in the earth and space sciences and extensive background in geology and geophysics, her goals and priorities as she balances her USGS and AGU duties, and the societal contributions that these sister science organizations can offer together. Thanks for being here, Carol.

Carol Finn: Thank you for inviting me to come.


Marisa Lubeck: Congratulations on your appointment. When you were a student before your career in science really got started, was this title something you were aiming for? Did you see yourself in this kind of leadership role at this point in your career?

Carol Finn: Well, first of all, thank you. Congratulations and ha. That's all I can say. I mean when I was a college student, I didn't know about AGU. I was in geology at Welsey College and I'm just trying to graduate, and when I graduated I moved to Colorado and got my job here at the USGS working for a geophysicist.

At that point, I was just interested in how I can keep my job, how do I go to graduate school. I was playing rugby and doing karate and I wanted to travel so those kinds of things I was thinking about. I joined AGU pretty quickly to meet colleagues and to publish and there was no way that I ever thought that I would ever become the president of AGU, including up until the time that I got nominated a year and a half ago, really honored and humbled to be in this position.


Marisa Lubeck: AGU is a 91-year-old organization and you'll be its only third female president. You'll also be the third USGS scientist to serve as president. Are you the first female USGS scientist to hold this role?

Carol Finn: Well, yes and no. I'm the first female USGS scientist who's working at the USGS but the last female president is someone that everyone's name will recognize, Marcia McNutt. She used to work at the survey. She wasn't working at the survey when she was president.

Being the third is kind of ironic. Three is my lucky number when I was a little kid. I feel honored to be part of a tradition of diversity of academic and government service to AGU. I certainly like seeing more women in leadership roles. There's been a dearth of women until recently so it's a very nice position for me to be in.

I think part of what got me here was my USGS job experience. I've been working here for 30 years. I feel like I had a lot of freedom to do a lot of really great science and work with a lot of really different people and I think that career experience and 20 years of volunteering in AGU, that put in a position where I can actually step up to this position. So I'm deeply grateful to the USGS.


Marisa Lubeck: That brings me to the point that the USGS and AGU have overlapping missions in regards to fostering research in the natural and earth sciences. Do you foresee your roles as USGS scientist and AGU president influencing each other? Are there aspects of your USGS work that will add perspective to your work with AGU and vice versa?

Carol Finn: I mean I know what AGU's vision is and compare it to USGS and they are remarkably similar. The difference is that AGU is a much broader community. It has 58,000 members. There are people from 139 countries; it's more diverse in terms of the population plus the space science, there's atmospheric science, there's ocean, hydrology and a whole bunch of earth and biological sciences.

So that broader perspective has certainly already influenced my work at the USGS, but I also think the USGS mission of applied science clearly focused on societal needs. It's something that AGU is interested in pursuing further, really manifesting its mission and using science to benefit society. Just the different perspective of being a government employee versus being an academic will inform my work at AGU.


Marisa Lubeck: What sort of challenges or perhaps opportunities do you foresee in having one foot in the federal sector and one in the nonprofit?

Carol Finn: The biggest challenge is in time management, balancing both my USGS work and my AGU work, but it hasn't been a real problem up to now.

Another challenge is they're both really different systems and different cultures. AGU is a nonprofit organization, member society, 200 staff, a lot of members worldwide. There's a lot of ability to impact it because the members come and ago. Whereas, working the survey, 9,000 employees and most of us support here for a very long time so it's a different kind of timeframe in terms of how we approach problems, what kind of changes happen and so on.

The differences are kind of what excites me. The collegial level and excellence of work are pretty similar so it's not completely a different culture but I think I'll find as president I'm going to be exposed more than I am now as general secretary to different flavors of AGU science.


Marisa Lubeck: What did the USGS and AGU have to offer each other in terms of collaboration for example?

Carol Finn: I think in general what's needed in science is more accountability and more transparency. A lot of people don't understand how science is done and even maybe scientists don't understand exactly how does peer review work, whole issues of having data be open and publications be freely available. I think it's important to science to be open and accountable and USGS has a really long tradition of being open with its data. As geophysicists, we've always published our data right away if we can. We do have a strong peer review and clear peer review system.

So I see that kind of perspective of mine coming into the organization. Possibilities of collaboration, there are many. I mean I can think of one, for example. Although climate change is the big scientific issue of the day, clearly resources and pressure on water resources, for example, are equally big. AGU has a big hydrology community. USGS has a big hydrology section, maybe collaborative meetings. There are a lot of possibilities between the two organizations or between government agencies in general and AGU being able to more prominently bring forward the science and the government organizations.


Marisa Lubeck: What have been some of the highlights of your career in science so far and what are you looking forward to as it progresses?

Carol Finn: Well, as I said earlier, I'm deeply grateful to the USGS for offering me such freedom to be able to pursue a lot of scientific interests with a lot of different people. It's a great opportunity for me to broaden myself, my science and my network.

There are sort of three general things that I really look to in my scientific career. One is my work in Antarctica. It's been funded by the USGS and the National Science Foundation so it's been very exciting working with international teams and difficult field conditions and places that people haven't been and the whole aspects of exploration, finding out what's the geology under the ice, how does the ice work, how does it contribute to climate change. And particularly, my collaborations with German colleagues and colleagues at Lamont-Doherty have been really gratifying.

I was also on a big project in Afghanistan to try to assess resource potential there, to try to benefit that country. So being part of something like that is really exciting. Then, worked a lot on the Cascade Range on volcano hazards and more recently in the last five or 10 years has been applying geophysical techniques that are used in the mineral resource industry to volcano hazards programs so it has high societal impact, looking at landslide possibilities. I've been able to work with a lot of really great USGS colleagues.


So in the future, it's kind of the same as I'm talking about AGU. I just want to broaden my perspective, continue to work on broad interdisciplinary projects but ones that have perhaps more societal impact than I have in the past.

Also, one of the things I've been thinking about for my career is just the ability to bring younger people into geophysics and foster their careers like I was fostered. I had a mentor at the USGS who was very important to me so I have younger people that are working for me. In AGU, we've been contacting a lot of young people who are students, early career scientists to participate in the governance and the council on strategic planning committees because they're the future of the organization so I feel really fortunate to be able to foster other people's careers and advance the science that way.


Marisa Lubeck: Well, Carol, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today.

Carol Finn: You're welcome.

Marisa Lubeck: This podcast is a product of the US Geological Survey, Department of the Interior. I'm Marisa Lubeck. Thanks for tuning in.

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