Helen Janiszewski

Name: Helen Janiszewski

Major(s): Geological Sciences, Physics; Minors: Mathematics, Russian Language

Year: 2012

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Cell: 201 835 4673


Why did you choose X as your major?

I was a kid obsessed with dinosaurs (and I am now still an adult obsessed with dinosaurs), which fueled my initial interest in earth sciences. I didn’t have any formal earth sciences classes before college, but through books, museum trips, vacations to national parks, and more, I think I was always a little in awe of the diversity of processes and organisms that make up our planet. I entered college excited about the fact that I was finally going to be able to take classes in earth science, and I was already planning on majoring in Geological Sciences before I started my freshman year. I paired that with a Physics major as well, because I appreciated the construction of quantitative problems and solutions in that field and wanted to have a background in both.

What did you like most about it?

Almost everything… The professors, the other students, the grad students and postdocs, the classes, the research, the field trips, the department BBQs and potlucks. I got to study a field that I had always wanted to study, and made friends along the way. I still run into professors and students from Rutgers at conferences, and my undergrad advisor, Vadim Levin, is still introducing me to new people. It was pretty much everything I could have hoped for in a major.

What is your current position, what do you, and what do you enjoy most about it?

I am currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC. I do research in seismology, and I am mostly focused on determining the seismic properties of plates at subduction zones so we can better understand processes related to earthquakes, volcanoes, and more broadly plate tectonics. That’s the broader idea at least, but the most fun daily aspect for me is that I get to come into my office and spend my time working on scientific questions that I think are valuable and interesting, and that I am surrounded by other scientists that have varying interests and expertise that I can talk with and learn from. It’s a very dynamic and energetic environment, and a lot of fun to be a part of.

What was your first job after Rutgers and how did you get it?

After Rutgers I went on to a Ph.D. program in Geophysics at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. While it’s the not exactly a traditional post-undergrad job, most Ph.D. programs in the sciences in the United States cover your tuition and pay you a stipend for living expenses. I had the opportunity to do research in geological sciences at both Rutgers and at Lamont as an undergrad, and was engrossed by it. After those experiences I was pretty sure that I wanted to have a career that involved research and teaching in the earth sciences, and those basically require a Ph.D. I applied to programs in my senior year at Rutgers, and decided to start at Columbia the following fall. As a Ph.D. student, I was doing research for my dissertation and also working as a teaching assistant for courses.

How did you move from that first job to your current position?

At this point, I am hoping to get a job either as a professor or a researcher in the future. Right now I am a postdoc, which is a temporary employment at a university or research institute where I get to keep doing more research in my field, and is a pretty typical type of employment in between a Ph.D. and getting a permanent position. For this particular position, I applied to several postdocs about a year before I defended my Ph.D. and was fortunate enough to wind up at Carnegie!

Looking back, what classes or experiences at Rutgers would you point to as contributing to your successes?

The overall support from the Earth and Planetary Sciences department (as well as the Physics department) played a huge role. The double major and double minor was a challenge, but would have been an absolute nightmare without an encouraging environment. The positive tone set for the undergraduate program in geology was invaluable. In addition, the professors I encountered during my major had an incredible breadth of knowledge and diverse professional collaborations that helped to give me a broad fundamental background educationally and set me up with valuable future connections in the field.

What advice do you have for our current Arts and Sciences students?

Take the fullest advantage of what Rutgers has to offer you; there are so many resources and opportunities. And one of those resources is the professors themselves! Talk to them, both in and outside of the classroom. Ask them for advice about classes, research opportunities, and any other opportunities you may be looking for. I encountered incredibly knowledgeable and supportive professors at Rutgers, and they were full of helpful advice. Don’t be shy!

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