2 March 2022

In 2021 Carleton granted tenure to three faculty members in recognition of their achievements. During winter break, they talked to the Voice about the road that led them to academia, Carleton, and the meaning of the midcareer milestone.

Layla Oesper, Professor of Computer Science

Layla Oesper

Oesper designs algorithms to analyze DNA sequencing, with applications in cancer-genomics research. Along with Carleton professor of biology Rika Anderson ’06, she was recently honored with a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation. Totaling more than $1 million combined, the two CAREER awards are the largest ever given to individual faculty members at Carleton. Oesper received a PhD and ScM from Brown.

What’s your favorite class?
Computational biology. It tends to be one of my smaller classes. We read a series of papers dealing with computational challenges and develop several Jeopardy!-style games to go with it.

Why is tenure important?
Tenure allows me to think about the long game. I can reflect on the trajectory of the college, or my department, or my career. It gives me the security and flexibility to think long-term.

What is your favorite hobby?
I’ve done a lot of hiking. I love the outdoors and being in nature, especially being in places where it took work to get there. If you want to be totally cheesy about it, it’s like getting tenure: You put in all this effort to get to this spot. It’s hard and you want to turn around or stop. But once you get to the destination, you can see all that you accomplished.

Constanza Ocampo-Raeder, Professor of Anthropology

Constanza Ocampo-Raeder

Born and raised in Mexico, Ocampo-Raeder came to the United States in order to advance her education. She attended Grinnell College in Iowa, obtained a master’s degree and PhD from Stanford, and then taught at the University of Maine before joining the Carleton community because, she says, “it’s a place where you can pursue both teaching and research.”

Talk about your “Anthropology of Food” course.
A few years ago, I started exploring the meaning of food. Take sugar, for instance. It comes in lots of different forms. It has a complicated and nefarious history that’s related to slavery. It used to be scarce in our diet and now it’s everywhere — a sign of abundance. It’s rich to take topics like sugar and chocolate — or even foreign concepts like eating insects or cats — and explore the related history, cultural associations, and beliefs.

Do you cook as part of the course?
No. But I do often get invited to dinner by my students, and I recently remodeled my kitchen so I can fit 25 students in there if I want to entertain. We make dumplings or tortillas. Or I just bring in bagels and we sit around and eat and talk.

Why is tenure important?
You can afford to take risks. You can pursue uncertain research paths without worrying if it will cost you your job. That gives you the kind of confidence that allows you to take your teaching and scholarship to the next level. You can explore new things and you can be a little bit more forceful with propositions you’ve been considering.

Jay Tasson, Professor of Physics

Jay Tasson

Raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Tasson was eager to return to the upper Midwest after earning a PhD in physics from Indiana University. He joined the Carleton faculty on a temporary appointment from 2011 to 2014, then taught at St. Olaf for two years before returning to Carleton in 2016.

What classes do you most enjoy teaching?
I like all of them — for different kinds of reasons. I really enjoy teaching analytical and computational mechanics, because it’s geared to sophomores, so I get the students just as they are declaring majors. It’s also a fun class because students have to create a trebuchet, a kind of rocket launcher or catapult that’s powered by a falling weight.

Why is tenure important?
The standard historical answer is that tenure ensures that faculty can pursue their academic interests without pressure from the institution. I suppose that’s true, but at a place like Carleton I’ve never felt any pressure to alter the direction of my research. For me personally, tenure is comforting. I now have a permanent home.

How do you spend your off-campus time?
I recently became the assistant scoutmaster for my son’s Boy Scout troop. He’s 12, and I used to be an Eagle Scout, so we’ve developed a closer connection by learning knots and practicing our camp cooking.

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