Why did you decide to become an academic?
I have always been fascinated by cities and their transportation systems. As a child in Southern California, I was fascinated by the freeway system and the Thomas Guides that people used at the time to find their destinations in a pre-GPS world. I soon became an expert back seat navigator for various parents or grandparents. I worked for a few years directly out of high school, and then attended West Los Angeles College. It was while I was a student at the community college, that I began to understand that there were academic disciplines that examined cities, transportation systems and the like. I transferred to UCLA as a Geography major and there discovered Urban and Regional Planning as a discipline that was not just focused on examining cities but in trying to make them better places to live, work, and play for their residents. The ability to do work, whether through teaching, research, or service, that could have a real-world impact on cities and the people who live in them is what attracted me to planning. The freedom that academia provides to select the questions and issues on which you work led me to pursue a doctoral degree and embark on my career.
What do you find most fulfilling about your job?
The most fulfilling part of my job is seeing the students we have had in our graduate programs go on to successful careers. We have had so many alumni go on to do important and impactful work in their communities and take leadership positions in their professions and in the academy. I think back to their time as students in our program and in my classes and it gives me joy to think that our faculty played a role in providing them with knowledge, skills, values, and experiences that helped them to embark on their professional journeys. Those experiences are the most fulfilling parts of my job. But there are also other aspects of my work that I find tremendously rewarding, such as seeing a student or group of students win an award for their academic or project-based achievements, or having our faculty recognized publicly for their teaching or research. These are tremendously rewarding experiences as well.
What are you working on or teaching right now that has your excited professionally?
The most exciting things I’m working on right now are more on the administrative side of things than in research or in the classroom. I continue to teach our statistics and transportation demand modeling courses, and to keep some research going, but most of my time is spent in my roles as chair of our department or associate dean in the college. In these roles I’ve been working to create the policies, practices, and mentoring or other supports that help our faculty in their teaching and pursuit of their research programs. Doing things that help our people succeed is what most excites me now.
Dr. Jeff Brown is a Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at Florida State University. His research focuses on how the prejudices in professional practice have resulted in the development of less-than-optimal transportation networks. You can learn more about Dr. Brown here.