Wednesday, June 26, 2013

travel payment

Ask a manager has a recent post here about travel reimbursements. There's a lot of discussion in the comments about how the policies really differ significantly.

When I first started out and had zero money, my fieldwork happened to be local. So I wasn't really on the hook for travel expenses. By the time I started a lot of non-local travel, I had enough cash available to float the expense until the reimbursement check came in, so the issue of how to pay for my expenses was more about convenience.

 I've had access to several different travel-payment arrangements:

1. Arrange for a travel advance. This was offered as a first option for folks who were entry-level or had just started the job. It was also the standard arrangement for reimbursement at my grad school, but I found it easier to pay whatever and get reimbursed later when I had the bill in hand. If someone is super new, the travel advance may go to the person in charge of the fieldwork to take care of the arrangements so that the company is reasonably sure the newbie isn't going to abscond with a big check.

2. Have admin/travel book everything. The charges go on some admin credit card or PO, it's one of the admin's primary tasks (so it's routine for them and there aren't any surprises) and all the of paperwork/approvals are taken care of by the financing folks.

3. Use your own credit card, which you've selected because of its favorable travel points (hotel or airline, usually - most folks I know stick with 1 main card to maximize status with one program). Get reimbursed when you submit your charges. As long as you're finding flights/hotels that are within the limits set out, nobody cares where you stay, so you pick the option that you get points on. Never pay for your own flights/hotels on your vacations again, but you are essentially giving your firm a series of advantageous short-term loans. You may have wild fluctuations in cash flow as reimbursements are paid, so this option requires enough credit/extra money to account for this.

4. Get a corporate card. Variations include:
    a. All charges go to the company, don't worry about them. Expect a nastygram from A/P if you charge something unreasonably personal to it.
    b. The company pays the credit card directly, but it's up to you to submit your bills/invoices/charge slips, and if you take too long, expect a nastygram from A/P.
    c. The company pays the credit card directly, but only after you submit for reimbursement, and if you don't, your own credit gets dinged if the charge is late. How timely is your company's payment, anyway?
    d. Here's a credit card. It has the corporate name on it, but otherwise, it's all yours. See 3 above, but with no travel point perks.

Right now, I have an ideal situation, which is that I have my choice of 2 or 3. If I did mostly fieldwork (not the case right now) and made a big stink, I probably could get 4a. If booking may be a pain or I may rack up a truly spectacular set of charges (back-to-back flights across the country with no notice, for instance), I'll go with 2. Otherwise, I'll keep up my super duper elite status on my travel-related credit card with 3.

I've submitted travel expenses for several different organizations, including for a sponsor of my masters' research which was a major resource company. I haven't had issues getting reimbursement, but I'm pretty careful to limit my reimbursed/company paid expenses to stuff that I actually need to travel/get fieldwork done.

The only time I ran into trouble was when I was required to use option 4c and I had to submit all my expenses in one report (i.e. after I got back and the hotel got around to billing the credit card) and I had to make advance reservations. Then, I was in danger of my credit card not being paid in time through no fault of my own, so I blew off the option 4c requirement and used my own damn credit card for the advance reservations.

I do think that environmental consulting firms are generally reasonable - most of the management has at least a dim memory of traveling for fieldwork, so things are usually arranged so that field staff aren't in danger of not having enough money or credit to do the work. But yes, it is pretty standard for employees in environmental consulting to pay for travel and get reimbursed later.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

rude presentation questions

FSP has a recent post about being attacked when/after giving a presentation. The post has a poll which shows that the majority of respondents have indeed experienced a public rude comment/question during or after a talk. A rude question would be one that attacks the speaker and his/her research personally or is clearly intended as a "gotcha" question.

I think geologists are pretty laid-back in general. In my experience, folks tend to ask more pointed/technical questions of a speaker who seems to know what they're talking about. Undergrads and the clearly nervous tend to get a pass. However, the questions can get more pointed if someone is representing a company (say, a remediation firm) and the presentation sounds more like a sales pitch. For example, they have some new wonder-formulation that will work in all types of geology and has no field implementation issues at all.

I did have one person who had published several papers in my corner of the environmental field and seemed to take my research personally, and he was pretty aggressive when I was giving talks. He didn't like my scope of research and timeframe, and he would point this out every chance he got. I responded that financial and time constraints (there's only so much a master's student can do with a fieldwork-based project!) prevented me from designing a gold-plated research study, but that initial results were promising. And yes, I was aware of his work. And I was not actually doing what he did, I was looking at his subject from a different angle, using distinctly different methods.

After the second go-round, I was rather practiced at this.

I don't think I've actually been at a presentation where someone was attacked personally or told that their science was a waste of money. I'd like to think that if that were to happen, the audience would give a collective shrug and ignore the question to discuss the actual science.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

geology is everywhere!

This month's accretionary wedge is about seeing geology in different places.

I have mentioned before that I am not a hard-rock geologist. I don't get excited about rocks and minerals, although I'll certainly take note of a particularly impressive specimen.

However, I have been known to randomly stop by the side of the road when I see something interesting - like weathering!

As a geologist, I notice not only the interesting shapes, but I also consider the processes that worked together to make that feature.

Sure, the erosion of this material makes for nifty roadside shapes, but what does this mean for land stability? Maybe you'd reconsider buying this house a short distance away...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

the Brunton

I'm not sure how much this diminishes my credibility as a geologist, but I do not own a Brunton compass.

(photo from here)

What distinguishes a Brunton (sorry, pocket transit) is that you can measure dip angles and compass headings with remarkable precision, it's small (if not light), and it's bulletproof. The ones we used in college and grad school had been manhandled by generations of students and worked fine.

Last time I needed to determine fracture orientation in the field, I had to scrounge around for a pocket transit that I could borrow from someone else, since my organization didn't have one. When I started asking around, I found that about 20% of geologists had their own pocket transit. My sample may be biased low, because these were the people who knew I was looking to borrow one. Other owners may have kept quiet because they weren't willing to share an admittedly expensive gizmo.

The pocket transit I used worked out fine, but since I was using a personal, very expensive item, I was petrified of dropping it or scratching the mirror - a real possibility, considering the rocks I was scrambling about on. I've been keeping an eye on eBay - they turn up regularly at prices ranging from less than $100 for dusty old finds to $700 or so for unused ones.

If I were a structural geologist, I'd definitely have a pocket transit. But I rarely need to go out and assess outcrops. Readers, if you do structural-type stuff a lot, do you still use a trusty 50+ year old product, or do you have something newer/fancier/better?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

where to go next?

My sweetie and I are starting to plan our next big adventure. We've got a couple different ideas, but we haven't decided on anything yet. So here's my question for globe-traveling readers - do you have any suggestions?

Here's our criteria:

1. Our timeframe is next spring (early April to early June).

2. We don't want to go anywhere super hot or overwhelmingly crowded.

3. Target location is outside the US, but no more than a 10-hour flight from the east coast.

4. Nifty scenery (human or natural).

5. I'd like to be able to cross something off my list of "things every geologist should see", but nothing too exciting. No erupting volcanoes, please!

6. Our last grand adventure was in the northern Alps, so we're looking for somewhere new.

I may keep a bunch of suggestions in mind for future adventures as well, so feel free to suggest different places!

Friday, June 7, 2013

job postings

The commenters on this post (sorry, extremely old) were batting round the idea of an ideal response rate for job applications. How many jobs should you expect to apply to? How many of those would you expect a call back from?

I didn't get any of my jobs from a posted position on a big aggregator like I got my first environmental job, an internship, through one of my geology professors. When I was looking for full-time, permanent jobs, I did apply to posted jobs and even went on a couple of interviews. But I ended up getting a job through a recruiter because my company didn't want to go through the bother of sorting through a mountain of entry-level job applications.

Once I had a few years' experience, my job hunting was entirely via networking. Sure, I looked online, but I never found the right combination of job requirements. So either recruiters called me (with mixed results) or I asked trusted former colleagues if they knew of anything. I would send over my info, and if they liked what they saw and were reasonably optimistic about their organization's future, they would create a position.

That's not really ideal.Not everyone has an awesome network, and it's better to have a bigger pool of applicants than whoever happens to be in the know or trips over your website. I'm not sure how common it is though - maybe my corner of the environmental biz is really, really small.

Monday, June 3, 2013

respecting the driller

I had a lively (heated?) discussion with a bunch of other geologists a while back about getting what you need from a drilling program. Do you go over expectations and oddball job-related details at the beginning (my preference)? Assume that you're all on the same page and then correct as you go? How many suggestions do you make before you run the risk of telling drillers how to do their own job? How picky are you about the driller's methods?

One of the geologists got upset by the tone of the discussion. She thought the rest of the (mostly older) geologists presumed an adversarial relationship and were treating these hypothetical drillers as if they were an obstacle to actually doing the work. Why couldn't we work together to get the job done?

I've done fieldwork in a bunch of different places, and have worked with probably 50 drillers from companies ranging from national operations to one-man shops, and it is a rare driller indeed who is not hierarchically-minded. That is, they're most comfortable with someone who takes the lead immediately but knows when to defer to the driller's expertise.

My natural inclination is to be agreeable, to not make waves and to work cooperatively - to explain my thought process and what I'm looking to achieve, rather than giving orders. This rarely goes well, especially if I'm working on a short-term job and we don't know each other. Usually, the driller just want to hear the marching orders and get the job done.

My response to the younger geologist was this: you and the driller are not friends. You're there to get what you need, and often what you need gets in the way of the driller's preferences. There are ways to be respectful/kind/helpful, such as going out on iced/hot drink runs or staying out with the drillers if it's miserable out. But you can't rely on the driller's good nature or your relationship to do what you need. You need to watch them. And if it's a question of safety or if they're doing something to compromise the data, it's your job to correct them.