Dr. P. Jay Fleisher: Scientist, Professor, Mentor, JIRPer

Interview by Salvatore G. Candela

Dr. P. Jay Fleisher is a Distinguished Teaching Professor, Emeritus at State University of New York, College at Oneonta, where he taught Glacial Geology and Geomorphology. Jay has been involved with JIRP since 1968 when he participated with 15 other post-docs, and again on multiple occasions as a volunteer faculty member.  Jay served as JIRP's Interim Director from 2010 through 2011, then returned to Camp-10 as teaching faculty member in 2013 after a one year hiatus.

Dr. Fleisher explaining the xenolith inclusions near Camp 10.  Photo by Jamie Bradshaw.

Salvatore G. Candela: What was your educational path to becoming a scientist?

P. Jay Fleisher: As is true for many youths, it is possible to be influenced by a single teacher or mentor, and the influence came for me when my general science teacher in 5th or 6th grade took us to a university where we toured the engineering facilities and got  to see presentations by the faculty. I was so impressed by what these people did that I knew I wanted to be a scientist or engineer. During my first semester in an engineering curriculum I took a mandatory geology class that seemed to deal with topics of special interest. As I found myself learning about the formation of rocks and the Earth, I questioned “How could I possibly not study this?”. As I read the text books and listened to lectures I became so attached to the subject, and felt a passion for it, which lead me to become a geologist.

SC: What is your current field of study and interest?
PJF.: While in undergraduate school I found an introduction to a book on metamorphic rocks that said “the best geologist is the one who has seen the most rocks”. This inspired me to leave NY once finishing my undergraduate degree and head to North Carolina for my Masters to “see more rocks”. From there I headed to New Mexico to see even more rocks, and continue to grow my own knowledge on the topic. While working there, I realized I needed a PhD to do what I really wanted to do, teach at the college level. While in graduate school for my PhD, I decided to study glacial geology.

SC: What would you say was your greatest contribution to the world of science?
PJF: To have mentored and inspired undergraduate students to become scientists.

SC: What are the best and worst places your work has taken you?
PJF: The best place isn’t a place, it’s an environment, and the environment is the glacier wilderness, examples include the Juneau Icefield and Bering Glacier, Alaska.

The worst place….(long pause), was where I experienced being wet and cold, the combination being very physically uncomfortable, such as on the Juneau Icefield, and the Bering Glacier, Alaska, as two examples. Getting through these are also the experiences I take the greatest pride in.

SC: How did you become involved in JIRP?
PJF:  While on the faculty at SUNY-Oneonta, I reacted to a mailed flyer that described the JIRP program and applied and was accepted in 1968. This was during my post-doc research. When I got here, I realized that this was a place I could learn a lot about glaciers and glaciation, but also a place where I could learn at least as much, if not more about myself, thanks to the constant challenges presented in this environment.

SC: How has JIRP inspired your work or research direction?
PJF: While on a traverse across the Juneau Icefield, having traveled for two days in a storm including a bivouac on the glacier, my small field party of five were being transported on the back of a Thiokol (a large, tracked, over-snow vehicle) to a permanent camp site. As I sat there, watching glaciated mountains and glaciers slowly pass by I realized this is a place that deserves my full attention, because it’s an analog for what occurred in my home state of New York 14,000 years ago... I was actually living in an ice age.

SC: As a scientist and former JIRPer, what role do you envision JIRP playing in shaping the coming generations of scientist?
PJF: Hundreds of young men and women were exposed to the Juneau Icefield under the direction of Dr. Maynard Miller, the founder of the program. Looking back, I see from the roster of all those who participated, the names of some of the most outstanding scientists in glaciology and glacial geology today. Knowing that JIRP launched them and myself into our careers, I look towards JIRP to do the same for many more in the future.

SC: What advice would you give to the coming generation of young scientists?
PJF: Follow your bliss, never stop questioning, and never stop challenging yourself.

SC: Thank you very much for coming to the Icefield to teach us this year, and allowing me the opportunity to interview you.

Jay would enjoy hearing from those who have benefited from this blog:  fleishpj@oneonta.edu