James Lazarcik

Earth System Sciences M.S. '16
James collecting a water column sample with an undergraduate helper for routine analyses.
Alumni Spotlight Q & A:

Where are you from, James? 

 I grew up in southeastern Minnesota.

What was your major and who was your adviser?

I was in the Earth System Sciences program and graduated with an M.S. in 2016. Jack Dibb was my adviser; I specifically studied how impurities move through the snowpack during winter and during melt.

Why did you choose UNH?

Honestly, I think Jack and I paired up because we were each others' last choice. I wanted to further my environmental chemistry education and Jack needed someone stubborn enough to sit outside all winter – a perfect union!

What were your favorite courses and which professors had the greatest impact on you?

I really enjoyed Isotopic Geochemistry taught by Julie Bryce. When she taught the class it was kind of like analytical chemistry meeting geology, anthropology, astrophysics, and biology. All of the lessons had a chemistry tilt to them, which helped make the content accessible to me. In terms of impactful professors who were not Jack, I had a deep respect and appreciation for Linda Kalnejais during her time at UNH. As far as I'm aware, she was the first person to advocate to accept me into the program, was a phenomenal instructor, and by the end of it was not shy with her point of view. Translated, she gave great advice!

What was student life like? What did you think of the campus and extracurricular activities?

Being a grad student at UNH was an overall positive experience for me. It was difficult to make friends coming from the midwest to such a strange land, but I left with some really good ones. For extracurriculars, I took a shining to playing basketball with the undergrads and winning all of their intramural championships. My favorite time was when a group of us beat the UNH football team 4 vs 5 – to be clear, we had 4 people and they had 8 or 9. They were not happy, but the loss inspired them to show up in force to cheer against us in the next game. It was a great atmosphere. 

What was the biggest transitional issue you faced when you started at UNH? 

I struggled transitioning to New Hampshire in general – the pace of everyday life was a lot faster in New Hampshire than what I was used to in the midwest. I don't think I really started to really feel settled until I started farm-sitting for extended periods of time at Sallie's Fen and another alpaca farm in Sanford, ME. 

Row of color photos of alum in action.

What is your current position and what does your day-to-day work look like? Why is your work important?

I am the Laboratory Manager for the Water Science and Engineering Laboratory at UW-Madison in Madison, Wisconsin. I have a pretty wide range of responsibilities, so the day-to-day is hard to describe. I manage most aspects of the facility, including facility maintenance, renovation projects, laboratory spaces, research operations, safety, and operations in the Core for Advanced Water Analysis. Additionally, I manage all of our instrumentation, train researchers on those instruments, help researchers develop efficient analytical methodology, and help external organizations answer analytical research, process, or product development questions. The best part of my current position is undoubtably all of the different research I've been able to learn about and help guide. I think the most important part of my work is the training I provide for students on our state-of-the-art instrumentation – more than one of my trainees has begun their learning under my supervision and gone on to an instrumentation-oriented profession.

What are your future career plans?

What a loaded question. I think me trying to make a career for myself in higher education, without having faculty status, or being a formally recognized researcher or supervisor has set me right up for a career in politics. Maybe the statehouse or the hill?

How did UNH contribute to your career and where you are now? Looking back on your time spent as a UNH grad student, what are some of your best memories? 

I learned a lot from Jack Dibb – I appreciated his approach to asking and answering questions. I think without his mentorship I would be walking a fairly different path than I am now. I also learned a lot from the people that I managed to meet and work with as a result of my relationship with Jack. To name a few, Sallie Whitlow, Karrie and Steve Myer, Alden Adolph, Cameron Wake, and of course Eric Scheuer who passed away last year. One of my favorite memories of my time at UNH involves some international mischief at Jack's literal expense to try and lighten Eric's mood over at Osan Air Base in South Korea. 

"I hope that both my current and past work can help bring clean drinking water to every person on the planet regardless of water source or socioeconomic status."

Any advice for undergrads/grad students who are conducting research?

Pay yourself first, often times failure is still progress, and practice advocating for yourself. I also warn most of my own students that if they don't take time off they will end up cranky and jaded like me, but I think that the sentiment from that statement is lost if you don’t have to deal with me day to day.

What was something you would have changed about your graduate research experience? What can be improved so that other students conducting research have an improved experience? 

My experience was really well suited to me. I would have preferred to spread fieldwork out over the course of the year instead of doing it all during the winter, and would have liked to take a day off here or there to do some winter recreating. The tradeoff here is I was able to help generate a really neat high(ish – for snow pack measurements!) temporal resolution dataset illustrating some interesting seasonal snowpack dynamics. Some of my colleagues struggled working well with their advisors, but there didn't seem to be many options for lateral moves to other PIs or programs to continue pursuing a degree but working on a different project or even a similar project with different leadership. Options like these are fantastic for students and can help preserve opportunities that have yet to be fully grasped!

What impact do you hope your work has on future generations?

I hope that both my current and past work can help bring clean drinking water to every person on the planet regardless of water source or socioeconomic status.


Pursue an Earth Systems Science degree

Are you or is someone you know an alum who conducted research with us? Do YOU want to be featured in an upcoming Alumni Spotlight? We'd love to connect! Please email Rebecca.Irelan@unh.edu with details.