Monday, December 9, 2013

environmental interns

There was a kerfuffle in the commentariat on this Ask a Manager post regarding unpaid interns.

In environmental consulting (in my experience), interns do Real Work for Real Pay (i.e. not minimum wage). We can always use a hand for the big summer projects. When I was an intern, I never really had any downtime, and I've always managed to keep interns busy now that I'm occasionally in charge of them. A partial list of stuff that interns do in the environmental biz:

1. Transcribe logbooks so that I don't have to go hunting through 17 of the buggers to track down one observation.
2. Research everything there is to know about an oddball contaminant/particular manufacturing process/location. For the latter, you'll likely need a field trip to the local library or historical society. Write a memo summarizing the results. Include a reference section with notes on how, exactly you found the info.
3. Report quality control. Does this text refer to the correct table? If we cite specific numbers, are they consistent with the actual data? Is the first (and only the first) abbreviation spelled out? As much as I like to do this stuff, my time would be better spent on more advanced work.
4. Sample management assistant: label jars, help pack samples, schlep coolers.
5. Keep the equipment/supplies inventoried and in order so that the field crew can drop their stuff and move to the next thing and the storage area doesn't become a fire hazard.That way I don't order new sample jars when we've already got 37 boxes in the back. Similarly, try to make sense of all the paperwork for a particular project so it can be filed (electronically or otherwise) correctly.

You'll notice that I haven't mentioned fieldwork. If you're at a contaminated site and may come in contact with nasty stuff (sampling or doing anything intrusive), you need HAZWOPER certification, which is a significant investment for a short-term job. If an intern gets the needed OSHA training, then the universe of stuff an intern would be expected to do increases significantly (and makes my life way easier):

1. Act as field buddy for remote jobs that technically only need one person to complete.
2. If a site is small or has lots of well clusters (so supervision is easy), collect groundwater samples.
3. Assist with "all hands on deck" situations, such as a water level round for a large site that has to be conducted in a couple of hours.
4. Hand augering for soil samples. The more muscle to crank that damn auger around roots and gravel, the better.
5. Anything else that involves carrying lots of stuff, getting dirty (sediment sampling!), or long treks, which doesn't involve major potential hazards and can be carried out under supervision.

An internship is a 2-way street. Sure, I get help with some of the thankless and tedious work I do, but the intern gets a good idea what it's really like to be in the environmental biz. I also find some time to show off/explain the more complicated stuff, like how a drill rig works and why we're collecting these samples in the first place. And hey, if the intern likes the work and we're impressed with what we see, there may be a job held for when the intern graduates.

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