By Leslie Jernegan
With a personal and professional résumé of titles such as student, teacher, geoscientist, college faculty member, mother and wife, Tina Nielsen has a history of juggling multiple responsibilities, and, consequently, fostering a multitude of talents. Now in her latest venture as the associate director of Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center in Madison, Nielsen has arrived full-circle from her original undergraduate pursuits.
Initially following a career in science, Nielsen discovered during her undergraduate years that she needed to mix science with her desire to work more closely with people. After working as a schoolteacher, she earned her master’s degree from the University of Michigan, and then moved to UW–Madison to acquire her PhD in Geology.
Describing her move to UW–Madison as “probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” Nielsen credits the university with diversifying her knowledge base and network, and exposing her to the industry side in geology.
“The geoscientists the university produces are very, very desirable for industry.”
Although Nielsen continued to envision working in academia rather than industry, her decision to try an internship changed her perspective.
“I had always thought that I was going to be an academic. I was a schoolteacher,” Nielsen says. “It just made sense. Then I started getting interested in what they did in industry.”
After interning with ConocoPhillips and later accepting a position with BP, Nielsen became a geoscientist in Houston who utilized her science knowledge, while also building new communications skills as a geoscience recruiter on the UW–Madison campus.
Now back to her midwestern roots, Nielsen’s marriage of experiences with corporations and academia, in addition to her teaching skills, made her a desirable candidate for her current position in which she mediates between the scientific and administrative worlds.
“Past positions as a teacher and additional roles at BP made it where I understand how to deliver products, how to keep things running, how to maintain relationships,” Nielsen says. “I had a diverse skillset you wouldn’t normally have with a regular academic path. That’s one of the reasons [Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center] hired me is that I did have a new lens to look through for these problems.”
Although Nielsen now stands in a position she says she never would have imagined for herself, she is grateful for having pursued her passions of science, education and people-work, and for having maintained flexibility in changing her career path to find the right fit.