PhD Candidate in Textile Economics and Environmental Analysis
Although no two days may be the same for Joanne Brasch, one aspect of her job is a mainstay: her passion. Joanne’s zest to bring attention to the diminishing sector of textiles research in the United States is evident. As a sustainability researcher and associate instructor in the UC Davis Department of Textiles, she teaches courses on fashion marketing and global trade. In addition, she also aims to lead health care sustainability initiatives in a first-of-its-kind, created-just-for-her job in the UC Davis Health System where her focus is on “hospital sustainability”.
Joanne’s work is highlighted regularly at national and international conferences, and we have no doubt she inspires her students as much as her peers. “I just love my students,” she says. “They always find special ways to validate my passion for teaching.”
‘No’ is not a bad word. What might seem like a dead-end might just be a hurdle.
What inspired you to pursue your current job?
I entered grad school as an opportunity to deepen my knowledge on the textiles and apparel industry and get another degree under my belt. I got a Master’s of Science in textiles doing research on medical textiles. What I discovered was a thriving niche discipline of “Hospital Sustainability” that could benefit from research and product development. I was inspired to pursue my job in the hospital once I learned the horrific impact hospitals have on the environment, especially given the opportunities to reduce the impact. Teaching is more than a job to me, it serves as a platform for inspiring for my students to pursue their own passions and find an industry niche that interests them.
What does your job involve on a daily basis, and what types of responsibilities do you have in your position?
In a general perspective, my job entails building bridges connecting people and ideas across disciplines and filling gaps of knowledge with factual evidence. I can’t say I’ve ever really had two days of work be the same. On a daily basis, my job involves a great deal of communication with students and colleagues, attending meetings/committees and living the life I teach about (re: sustainable life choices). Looking at individual projects, I gather quantitative data on hospital purchasing for analyses that determine if our purchasing trends have downstream effects on our waste generation. The most important tasks I have are to publish articles and presentations, as those are the merits of accomplishments in academics.
What is your favorite part of teaching? Your favorite part of textile science and marketing?
My favorite part of teaching is learning. Every quarter I have new students from all walks of life that offer new perspectives and experiences to our discussions. In my class on global trade, students often share their own travel stories that take the academic experience beyond the textbook. Students often do presentations on current fashion trends that influence my own shopping habits. I just love my students; they always find special ways to validate my passion for teaching.
My favorite part of working at the hospital is the adrenaline of doing something new. My position has never existed before me, so I set the precedent every day I go to work. I love sharing my research and participating in the discourse on hospital sustainability.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
At times, the problems in the health care industry can seem larger than life. I go to bed each night knowing I helped my hospital’s environmental impact and I wake up each morning thirsty to educate and make a difference. The anxiety that stirs in my head at night challenges me to think about the global impacts of my career. I often feel miniscule knowing the magnitude of environmental injustice occurring in the textile and apparel industry globally.
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
Finding a work/life balance is definitely a problem for a single, educated, hard-working woman, like myself. I didn’t find my success by taking my career lightly, but I can’t expect to meet my future husband by sitting behind a computer. My no-fail tactic for balance is to set time from my busy schedule to “unplug”. When I get home from work, I have to remind myself to take a break from email/social media/texts and unwind away from a screen. When that isn’t enough, I go camping/travel somewhere with no cellular service and leave my laptop at home. I find that unplugging often brings me back to the essentials, relaxes my eyes and brain, and puts more value on what matters, like having conversations with the people you love or doing some physical activity.
Was there ever a moment in your career where you’ve thought, “I can't believe I have this job?" What was it?
In my first month working at the hospital, I attended a meeting with some of the directors and supervisors discussing multi-million dollar budgets. I looked around to realize I was the youngest at the table, one of only a few women, and wondered if I belonged at the table. I had never fathomed working with such a large budget that I couldn’t believe they turned to me for advice.
Another amazing moment in my career was the first time someone called me Professor Brasch. It still makes me giggle inside when I hear it. My friends have nicknamed me “Pro Jo” as homage to my authoritative position at a university I once attended as an undergrad.
What are some of the rules you live by?
1 / Laugh often, sometimes even at yourself.
2 / You are what you eat, so eat for health, not for convenience.
3 / Listen to feedback/criticisms of your work. It’s better to hear things that might make you upset than nothing at all.
4 / You can’t make everyone your best friend, but you should always try to be nice. You never know what else is going on in people lives outside of work that could make them sensitive.
5 / Understand the difference between things you can control (i.e. your diet, time management, etc.) instead of stressing over things beyond your control
6 / “No” is not a bad word. What might seem like a dead-end might just be a hurdle, so you can either take things head-on or find a new path, just don’t give-up.
7 / Always keep moving forward, avoid stagnation or living in the past. The future is bright and exciting!
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
There is no cure to stress, just management. Finding healthy coping skills earlier in life will help you deal with greater stresses later on. At age 21, I would never have pictured myself as an avid runner or a slow-cook chef, but over the years those have become my best skills for stress relief.
What is one thing we might be surprised to know about your job?
Professors procrastinate too; we’re just better at it than our students.
What advice do you have for job hunters?
Look everywhere, ask everyone and make informed decisions. The Internet is a research tool, but not a means to get hired. It’s too easy to be anonymous behind a computer screen, so try a more active approach by picking up the phone or starting up a conversation. Even if you see a job posting online, you should still apply in person. Most of my students get jobs through our network of alumni, so keep in contact with your professional network. Be seen doing what you love to do and someone will notice. Turn out quality work and you will be rewarded.
The hospital offered me my position after I approached them with concerns of environmental impact. I walked in to a conversation I was passionate about and walked away with a job created just for me. It’s not luck that brought me success; it’s hard work, compassion and communication skills that have progressed my career to unimaginable heights.