Wednesday, September 17, 2008

geologists vs. engineers

When I was in environmental consulting, I worked with scientists in all different fields. However, the field folks could be broken down into 3 groups of about equal sizes - geologists, engineers, and everybody else.

As I've said before, issues with contamination can be approached in many different ways. But generally, the departments that produce the most graduates who go on to environmental work are engineering (civil/environmental) and geology. This produced a certain rivalry between us when we were out in the field - the engineers thought we were inferior because we thought qualitatively and not quantitatively, and we thought the engineers were inferior because they were trying to apply painfully simple equations to an infinitely complex situation.

To indulge in some stereotypes, we were observers and they were builders. So a geologist would be utterly fascinated by some odd pattern in the soil, while the engineer would be off fixing some annoying equipment problem, usually with duct tape, and nobody was especially interested in the actual sampling they were supposed to be doing.

I had this dichotomy stuck in my head when I applied to grad schools. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it didn't really hold true for the schools I was looking at. In fact, when I was meeting students at one school during a visit, I brought up the "geologists vs. engineers" rivalry and they'd never heard of it.

Now that I'm in grad school, I've found that the geologists and engineers I've met who are working on contamination-related topics tend to fall into either the "quantitative" or "qualitative" mind set in roughly equal proportions. It's a good reminder that my opinions on this blog are based on my experience only, and may not be necessarily extrapolated to the rest of the world.

...but geologists are still cooler than engineers, right!?


Silver Fox said...

Well, I think so - but maybe I'm biased! ;)

sandy shoes said...

Oh yeah. Way cooler.

Found your blog through FSP's. Reading it is like a flashback to my consulting days. (Drillers... oy.)

Anonymous said...

I came on the blog through twitter somehow. My god I must have had the geologist v engineer discussion a million times with my engineer co-workers at the envy engineering co I worked for. Yes geologists do like beer... and drillers too... coffee all day and beer all night...drillers are not human. But you guys measure in millions of years and engineers measure accurately in nanoseconds. They also are nay humans and dreadfully boring and obnoxious. I will admit I got a master's in CE but will always be a geologist at heart....Jimbo