Dr. Timothy Sands:
Reflecting on an Unexpected Career Trajectory: Bending the Impact Curve from One Juncture to the Next

Event Date: May 1, 2014
Hosted By: CoE Office of Academic Affairs
Time: 3:30 PM
Location: STEW 214 A-D
Contact Name: Marsha Freeland
Contact Phone: 765-494-5349
Contact Email: mjfreeland@purdue.edu
Open To: all
Dr. Timothy Sands


In this presentation, I will resist the urge to talk about my contributions to science, engineering and technology. Instead, I will reflect on my career trajectory. My hope is that my reflections will stimulate your own reflections, even if you disagree with the generalizations that I extract from scant anecdotal data. 

I will conclude that I have always (subconsciously) taken the path that maximizes my potential for positive impact on people (more impact; more people), accounting for my own strengths and weaknesses, while attempting to preserve my personal priorities of family and my own health and wellbeing.  I will not conclude that this is the optimal or even a desirable approach to one’s (your) career.

My career has not followed a smooth trajectory.  It is better described as a series of junctures separating smooth arc segments.  Although I feel I have always pushed to enhance the impact of my work during an “arc segment,” I have not been particularly intentional about career junctures. If I had been more intentional, I might have created different, and perhaps better, opportunities for impact, especially in the early stages of my career.

In my view, the purpose of the “Celebration of Faculty Careers” is to reflect on past junctures and to try to be intentional about setting up the next one.  By sharing these thoughts in an open forum, I hope you will think about your own path and your next juncture.  The conversation with your department head or your mentor(s) then can focus less on raising aspirations and more on lowering barriers (resources, time and the environment) to set you up for that next juncture.


Timothy D. Sands has served as executive vice president for academic affairs and provost of Purdue University since April 2010.  He was acting president from June 2012 - January 2013, prior to Mitch Daniels becoming the 12th president of Purdue.  In June of 2014, Sands will become the 16th president of Virginia Tech.

Tim Sands earned a bachelor's degree in engineering physics and a master's degree and doctorate in materials science from the University of California, Berkeley. He joined the Purdue faculty in 2002 as the Basil S. Turner Professor of Engineering in the schools of materials engineering and electrical and computer engineering. Prior to becoming provost, he served as the Mary Jo and Robert L. Kirk Director of the Birck Nanotechnology Center in Purdue's Discovery Park. From 1993-2002, Sands was a professor of materials science & engineering at the University of California, Berkeley and before that, he performed research and directed research groups at Bell Communications Research (Bellcore) in Red Bank, NJ.

Sands’ research efforts are directed toward the development of nanocomposite materials for solid-state lighting, direct conversion of heat to electrical power and thermoelectric refrigeration. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Materials Research Society (MRS).  In 2012, Sands was elected to the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) as a Charter Fellow.