Monday, September 30, 2013

on pricing

Ages ago, I complained about trying to get pricing for work that didn't exist yet. As I've gained experience and worked on more complicated/technically demanding projects, I've needed more pricing/technical support up front. Keeping identifying details secret has become a non-issue for me ("undisclosed location. Sensitive client. Somewhere in X state. Next!"), but parts of the process are still awkward.

When I really need to get in the weeds with a proposal for a technically demanding (potentially very expensive) process, I end up leaning pretty hard on vendors. Nothing is off the shelf. If we have this concentration in this geologic setting, and we have this list of logistical constraints, what little parts and pieces are needed to deal with these problems? So I draft something for the vendor(s) and they go off and spend some time building a proposal, and I question some things and clarify other things.

So then we've spent a lot of time pulling together a robust option that I can put in my cost/technical proposal. I get some number of these, and then they go to the client, who may decide on one item, some combination, or throw their hands up at the cost and wait for the ever-elusive funding.

Meanwhile, the vendor has spent all this time and effort on a proposal that has disappeared into the ether. That's the way the business goes. Calling me and sending plaintive e-mails monthly does nothing to change this process one way or the other. Yes, I was serious when I said I needed costs to evaluate potential options that may not ever happen. No, the client hasn't selected an option, because what needs to be done is several times the client's annual budget and the client is trying to scrounge up funding from long-term budget tweaks and competitive grants.

Rest assured, I appreciate the effort and if I ever do get the go ahead to spend money on a particular option, I will call up that helpful vendor and we will make it happen. Until then, we all need to sit tight.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

not a crusader

I recently had an opportunity to critically evaluate another contractor's document. This contractor happened to be working for the entity legally responsible for a big mess. Critical evaluation is one of my favorite things, so I really dug into the document, catching everything from typos to major omissions and unsupported conclusions.

The site in question has a... boisterous group of environmental activists. When they got a look at our evaluation, they were ecstatic that they had someone "fighting the good fight" on the behalf of the environment.

Well, not really. I've worked on contracts for the "good guys" (regulators) and "the bad guys" (industry), in both cases working to figure out what's going on in the environment. I have a moral and legal (I could lose my license!) obligation to be thorough in my investigations, and to not misrepresent what I discover. But my reputation depends on my skills as a scientist, and not in twisting the facts to represent one agenda or another. I've never felt pressure to misrepresent the facts as I saw them, although maybe I've just been lucky so far.

As I explained a long time ago, I don't consider myself to be an environmental activist.  I will admit it is still fun to poke righteous holes in other consultants' reports, though.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ig Nobels

I'm coming off a tough couple of weeks, so I'm just going to point you to something scientific - the recent Ig Nobel awards. My favorite this year is archaeology - you have to be pretty heroic to swallow a small critter whole, and then go rooting through the results to see what bones are left.

I'll have energy for more usual programming later, I promise!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

where are they now?

It's been more than a decade since I graduated from college, and I was wondering what everybody ended up doing. I didn't exactly keep in touch with other geology alumni, since I had a sort of difficult relationship with the department by the time I graduated.

Because I went to a small liberal arts college (SLAC) and my geology department made it something of a crusade to recruit students who didn't intitially consider geology (or any science) as a major, not everyone became A Geologist when they left. When I graduated, I knew that other students were considering going directly to grad school, into the environmental biz, to teaching, or other careers.

So I decided to do some facebook/linkedin stalking. Even if I wasn't best buddies with everyone, if I could remember a few names, maybe I could connect to other former students and figure out how they ended up.

It wasn't terribly successful. I only found one other person on facebook, and by doing an alumni search, I found an extremely small number of people on linkedin - less than 10 from my own class, and just a few other folks in the classes immediately before and after mine. I was surprised at the relatively low number of people on linkedin. Does everyone in my class have their searching/privacy settings cranked up, or are there just fewer people using the website than I expected?

Going by numbers alone, it looks like most people are in the resource side - primarily oil/gas. But perhaps these numbers are skewed because resource work is more contract-based, and therefore a higher percentage of resource-extraction geologists are on networking sites because they need to hustle more for work. Maybe the environmental geologists are less likely to use networking sites.

I first signed into Linkedin when I finished grad school and started job-hunting, but I haven't used it solely for that purpose. It turned out to be ideal to keep track of folks through layoffs and other job changes, and to keep in touch with the other people in my department in grad school. Although I'm not planning on going anywhere for a good long time, I think that having my name out there can only be positive as I work to become more visible in the local geological community.

Are there other, geology-specific networking sites I should check out? Maybe my fellow alumni are hanging out somewhere else in cyberspace...