Monday, April 30, 2012

400 posts

Great. Blogspot decides to change everything just when I need to root through a huge number of posts to create a word cloud. And then my computer doesn't play well with any more.

In spite of a multitude of obstacles, the word cloud for the last 100 posts is attached. For the last blog milestones, see here for 300, here for 200, and here for 100.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

taking a pillow

I sleep on my stomach, so I need to sleep on a hard, flat pillow. I almost always have a problem with hotel pillows. Either they're way too high and I get a crick in my neck, or they're too squashy and I end up feeling as if I'm suffocating. What I end up doing is either sleeping on the very corner of the pillow that squashes down the most, or rummaging for a spare blanket to fold up to the correct height. Or, going without entirely.

I always meant to bring a pillow from home (hell, I mentioned this in a post ages ago), but I never thought of it until it was too late, i.e. I was getting ready for bed at the hotel.

I recently had some fieldwork that was far enough away to stay at a hotel, but close enough so I didn't have to fly. I threw my pillow in the truck at the last minute.

It was perfect. I'd been getting over a persistent cold, so I really did need my sleep. And for once, I crashed right away and slept like a log. I did make sure that I tucked the pillow away in the morning - the last thing I needed was for it to disappear when the bedding got changed.

What I really should do is buy a "field" pillow and then add it to my duffel o'field gear so I can grab and go. Has anybody else done this, or am I just weird for being picky about pillows?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

blogroll update

I haven't done anything to update my blogroll in a while, so I figured it was time. I have a couple additions and one subtraction.

First, the subtraction. "Other people's emergencies: random thoughts of an urban paramedic" was a blog that I read religiously long before Accidental Remediation was a gleam in my eye. Unfortunately, it has been dead for years now, and unlike the other defunct blogs I'm keeping, it's not all that relevant to geologists or environmental types. A quick eulogy for the blog: this was a terrific insight into a job I had no experience in, but the writing and the stories pulled me in. I can only hope to do the same for non-geologists with this one.

I'm adding a few blogs to the geology blogroll: "watching for rocks" is focused on national parks and photos of interesting places. "Outside the interzone" is a great geology/miscellany blog from a regular commenter (and the comments are always appreciated, Lockwood!). And finally, I am a huge cat lover who is unable to have them because they kill my sweetie. So I am adding "geokittehs" to get my fix.

To round out my blogroll additions: for general science/academia, I am a huge fan of Dr. Free Ride and her discussion of ethics. And finally, I spent an entire weekend recently working through the back posts of "ask a manager", so I figured that was enough of an endorsement to add to my miscellaneous blogs.

Monday, April 16, 2012

1000 looks

I was out getting something from my car the other day and had the following conversation with a guy out on a smoke break:

Smoker: "You must have a thousand looks!"
Short Geologist: "Pardon me?"
Smoker: "Every time I see you, you're wearing something different. Yesterday you were wearing a traffic vest!"
Short Geologist: "Yeah, I do a lot of different things."

I hadn't really thought of it that way, but I do vary widely in what I'm wearing on a daily basis. I regularly wear everything from "construction gear" (carhartts, traffic vest, bandana, steel toe boots) to a suit (meeting with bigwigs), to jeans and a t-shirt (casual Friday) to "preppy teacher" outfits (khakis and institutional-logo polo shirts for the instructing gig). And the construction-type gear will vary widely based on weather - brightly-colored gore-tex for the possibility of rain, bulky coveralls and hideous hats if it's freezing, hiking pants if it's warm.

I've complained about the sheer number of outfits required for this line of work before. But one thing that I need to keep in mind is that the different variety of outfits reflects a varied and interesting work environment - not a bad thing.

Friday, April 13, 2012

mining vs. environmental wages

As a newly-minted geologist, I gravitated to environmental work for two reasons:

1. I like soft rock geology and soils.
2. I wanted to be able to work as a geologist in the vicinity of a big city on the east coast. Resource geology jobs were nonexistent (this was long before the Marcellus shale became big business, and even now, the resource jobs are not near the big cities where my sweetie needs to work).

I had always been under the impression that resource geologists get beacoup money compared to environmental geologists. It makes sense - resource (e.g. mining) geologist have to live where the work is, often in harsh conditions. But how much of a difference is there?

I was reading up on salary differences for various mining professions and locations here. I figure that I would correspond to a project geologist at $74,000, or about 20% more than I make (a very general estimate, assumes a straight salary, blah blah). Consultant rates are higher, but then a consultant covers more of their own benefits, insurance, gear, etc. Resource geologist readers - does this sound about right for the US?

My response is "eh". Slight increase in pay, big decrease in locations I could work and probably a decrease in working flexibility. And if my sweetie can't find work in the vicinity, then that would be a big old decrease in household salary.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

most important teacher?

I caught notice of this month's accretionary wedge (hosted at Metageologist) just in time.

So the question is, who was my most important teacher?

I went to a SLAC that had a 5-professor geology department. I wouldn't be able to suss out which professor was the most important - although I got a terrific base of geological knowledge, none of the courses were terribly earth-shattering, in terms of changing the direction of my career.

You know who made a huge difference in my geology career (and eventually, my life)? My college chemistry teacher. I'm paranoid about my pseudonymity, so I won't reveal her name here. Why chemistry?

I had always been a good student, until high school chemistry. Chemistry consisted of nothing but memorization and equations that didn't seem to relate to anything. After high school chemistry, I had pretty much ruled out "hard" science. Maybe I would understand something with fewer equations. (this train of thought is sort of funny considering that now I do lots of hydrogeology... helloo equations!)

I took chemistry in college because I needed two supporting sciences. But in this case, the professor was the opposite of my teacher from high school. She showed how all the pieces of chemistry actually fit together, and how the more you learned, the more everything made sense.

The chemistry I learned in that first course provided me with the base that helped me understand the underpinnings of geology - the stability of minerals, the conditions under which rocks were formed, and (most relevant to my career) the interactions between contaminants and subsurface materials.

I came out of that chemistry course with a terrific base of knowledge, and I had regained my academic equilibrium: I could ace a fast-paced, equation-heavy course. From then on, I continued to stretch myself to do well in difficult science and math classes. My chemistry professor changed my entire college career and was probably the catalyst for me to go on to (and be successful in) grad school.

Monday, April 9, 2012


As I discussed a long time ago, I developed some basic social skills relatively late (post-college) because I was painfully shy, spent most of my time ignored by those around me, and I had a crippling lack of self confidence. I knew I was supposed to "network" at technical meetings, but I had no idea how to do so.

I was going through old posts and this one on networking reminded me of a recent realization I had - I have a network! When I am at a technical or business meeting, I know people or have some familiarity with their office/company expertise, and we discuss the things that annoy us or that we need, and we end up solving each others' problems and exchanging business cards.

So how did I change from a clueless grad student to a networking maven? Well, I've been in the business long enough that I've met a lot of people. I know folks from grad school, from the conferences I've been to, and from the various consulting firms I've worked with in various capacities.

Here's my one piece of advice for effective networking for newbies: an effective network is based on mutual self interest. Don't worry so much about meeting with industry/academic bigwigs - they're not going to remember you or care unless you have something to offer them. Instead, talk to your peers. Try to find something in common with the other early-career attendees. If you're at a conference, look through the posters and listen to as many talks as you can. Do you have experience with a particular technique? Are you familiar with a particular department or regulatory agency? If you end up having a productive/ interesting conversation (even if it's just venting about fieldwork or academic woes), then hand over your contact info when you leave.

Maybe you'll see that person you met (or someone from their department or company) at another conference. Eventually, you'll have a surprising number of connections that can pay off personally and professionally. For example, I just met a manager who was looking for some geologists who had experience with a specific type of drilling method. I happened to know a couple of geologists who had exactly that experience and could use the work. Did chatting with that manager help me directly? No, but I got to help out some folks I respect, and perhaps when I need something in the future, that manager will know someone...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

the travel bug

I am forever trying to separate out posts so that I don't have 900 "field rant" posts.

As geologist, I'm forever in transit between field sites and different offices. This has made me something of an expert in field travel. So I'll go through and add a new "travel" tag to separate out the posts a little.

If there are any other tags that come to mind for this blog, let me know! I will admit that now that I have a couple hundred posts, adding new tags is something of a commitment...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

conference hotels

I was staying at a big conference hotel recently, and it had the usual problems: outrageously expensive internet, no food or entertainment options within walking distance, and preposterous prices - my club sandwich for dinner was $17! Yes, many of the guests here are on expense accounts, but not everyone has the free funds... or an accounting department that will cut you a check without a drawn-out fight.

So I was ready to post an angry screed about my digs, but then I found out that they had a system where they'd give you vouchers for pretty decent swag if you opt out of housekeeping. Sweet!

I don't need housekeeping every day when I'm in a hotel. I'm not particularly messy, and I like to spread out my stuff so I can find my clothing easily in the morning (I'm afraid of leaving stuff in drawers - that's a good way to forget something). Also, I always pull out the sheets so that I can be properly wrapped up when I sleep, and housekeeping always tucks the sheets in as tight as humanly possible every day. And it's eco-friendly to skip the housekeeping!

I just need to find another place for dinner...