Cheryl McKenna-Neuman

Cheryl McKenna Neuman obtained her MSc in physical geography in 1983 from the University of Guelph, and her PhD from Queen's University in 1988. She joined the Department of Geography at Trent University as a faculty member in 1989. Her research interests in wind erosion lie at the intersection of climatology, geomorphology and soil science. Over a third of the land surface of Earth is arid to semi-arid, and is affected to varying degrees by wind transport of soil particles. Emission of these particles is a key process contributing to desertification and poor air quality in many regions. Cheryl is an expert in wind tunnel simulation of this process, which requires a solid understanding of fluid mechanics and soil physics, as well as considerable technical competence. Her environmental wind tunnel at Trent can operate at below freezing temperatures, and she is a world leading authority on aeolian transport in cold regions. She has extensive field experience in setting up monitoring programs in Baffin Island in the eastern Canadian arctic, in the deserts of southern Nevada, and at selected sites in Ontario. She recently completed a term as President of the Canadian Geomorphology Research Group, has served on adjudication committees for the Ontario Council of Graduate Studies and the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and is presently Chair of the Department of Geography at Trent. Cheryl resides in Peterborough with her husband and two daughters, and in summer, enjoys spending as much time as possible outdoors on the Kawartha Lakes.

Q: What is the title of your job and what do you do?

A: I am a Professor and Chair of the Department of Geography at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario.

Q: What kind of hours/shifts do you work?

A: My working hours are somewhat flexible and vary throughout the year. Very few work days are ever exactly the same. This is good, because I thrive on change and get bored very easily!

Q: Where do you work?

A: I maintain an office where I carry out most of my work during many days. However, during the academic year (September through April), I also teach in classrooms and labs for several hours each day. During the spring and summer period, I spend the majority of my time in labs, and for short periods, carry out field work. The location of the field work varies with the particular project that I am working on, and can be local (Province of Ontario). In the past, I have also worked in the Eastern Arctic (Baffin Island), Nevada and California.

Q: What equipment/machinery do you use?

A: I work with a great deal of equipment in my job as an earth scientist. I run an environmental boundary layer wind tunnel at Trent University. It can be chilled to -15 deg C and reach wind speeds of 18 m per sec. There are many high tech instruments mounted in the wind tunnel for monitoring windspeed, temperature, humidity, and the entrainment and transport of particles contained in the airflow. I also maintain and operate similar instruments for field installation, inclusive of anemometers, wind vanes, data loggers, sediment traps, and dust recorders for measuring air quality.

Q: What education or training is required for your job?

A: A university (PhD) degree in an earth science discipline. I studied physical geography, though other colleagues that I collaborate with include meteorologists, soil scientists, and geologists.

Q: What kind of personal traits do you recommend for this profession?

A: I would suggest that one needs to have a curious mind, enjoys problem solving, is optimistic and persistent, is a very good communicator (both orally and in written work), and enjoys working with people (students and colleagues). Some of the work is very challenging, and the rewards are not realized until months to years afterward. It is not a good choice of profession for those who thrive on instant gratification. While it may take a long time in research to reach a goal, the ah-ha!! moments are tremendously exciting and well worth hard work to get there.

Q: What is the salary range of your job?

A: This depends on the number of years of experience that you have, though full professors usually make just over $100,000 each year.

Q: What do you like best about your job?

A: I love the fact that no day is ever the same. There are always new challenges and problems to solve, and in most cases, I have complete freedom to choose what I will work on and how I will approach this work. Second to this, I greatly enjoy working with university students, both undergraduate and graduate. It is so rewarding when, as a professor, you see the 'lights come on' when they finally 'get it'. Then, there are those exceptional students who have tremendous talent and teach me a great deal in return.

Q: What are the advantages?

A: I think I have already highlighted many of these through my responses to the other questions. Though somewhat more mundane, I might add that tenured professors do enjoy a considerable degree of job security, unlike some workers in industry and the private sector. A career in academia generally is a life-long commitment.

Q: What are the advancement opportunities for this career?

A: You have a great deal of choice in this, as a university professor, for which your three main roles include research, teaching and administration. A select few professors become award winning teachers, world recognized researchers, journal editors, presidents of professional associations, and deans and presidents of universities. There are few limits. The choice is largely up to you. However, none of these positions are achieved without an enormous investment of time and sacrifice.

Q: How physically demanding is your job?

A: My work as a lab based scientist is not physically demanding, although some earth scientists who spend their entire summers working in remote field locations, are very fit.

Q: Why did you choose this career?

A: Serendipity! In some regards, it chose me. As a young undergraduate student, I had great difficulty deciding on where I wanted to go with my studies, and selected from a very broad range of science and arts courses. My curiosity regarding natural science probably arose from spending a great deal of time outdoors growing up in rural Ontario. When I tried out an introductory course in physical geography late in my second year, I found that it not only was really interesting, but that I could excel in it. With strong encouragement from my professors, and help from NSERC scholarships, I entered graduate school. I used to tell my fellow graduate students/friends, that the main reason for undertaking the work that it was pure fun, and when it was no longer fun, that I would stop and find something else. I am still having fun, every day.

Q: What is your most memorable moment/event/place related to your experience as an Earth scientist?

A: I don't have a single most memorable moment. I have many such moments, all relating to a 'first time' experience or discovery. I have vivid memories of sitting atop an enormous star dune in the Mojave Desert viewing the stars against the night-time desert sky; discovering huge glacial erratics (a rock transported by a glacier and deposited far from its point of origin) that had been sculpted and polished by wind blown sand over thousands of years in an arctic fiord; and carrying out the very first simulation of sand transport at below freezing temperatures in a wind tunnel. It is a tremendous thrill to make a first discovery.

Q: What is your advice to newcomers?

A: This is a tremendously exciting time to consider a career in Earth Science. Never before has there been so much global attention given to crucial issues that will govern our future; issues concerning climate change, water resources, soil conservation, air quality and energy.

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