Friday, October 31, 2014

being famous

When I had my very first annual review, my manager asked where I wanted to go with my career. I had no idea: at the time, I was just focused on learning everything I could about the basics of fieldwork, analysis of results, and writing reports. I'd never thought of myself as particularly ambitious, but as my career gained steam, I did develop Ideas about where I'd like to end up.

I'd like to be an Expert, the sort of person who you'd call if you wanted to figure out a particularly thorny problem or if you needed someone to testify about geological stuff. The sort of person who would be a respected adversary if you ended up sitting across the table from her in big meetings involving potential litigation. So I taught courses and tried to work on big sites with complicated geology and enough contamination that it was worth someone's while to collect lots of geologic data and analyze it. And maybe, when I'm old and ready to retire, I'll be famous enough that people will seek me out to advise on interesting problems.

So that was what I was trying to do. In reality, attending conferences doesn't bring in any money. And the number of complicated sites that need lots of technical work is dwindling, and if the issues are really exciting, they bring in the famous Experts, the people I'm aspiring to be.

I was so focused on Science that I missed something else entirely. While geologic analysis is great when you can get it, what I was mostly doing was spending 10, 12, 14 hours a day with an army of rotating subcontractors. Standing out in the rain while trying to take notes. Logging sample after sample after sample in 2-foot increments. Giving team briefings and then trying to get everyone to stick with what I said we were supposed to do.

I already know people. I have an easy rapport with the management of a bunch of firms I've used before, because we've worked through complicated logistics together. Drillers and geophysicists and hazardous waste specialists have been in the field with me while I regrouped and fixed mistakes and tried to keep impossible projects on track. And honestly, I'm not sure how many knowledgeable but extremely young-looking, female geologists there are in my area. So I'm easy to remember. This was brought home to me recently when a new crew came to a site I was working at, and everybody piled out of the truck and someone said, "hey, it's Short Geologist!" and they were happy to see me and I had No Idea who they were.

I may not be the person everyone has on speed-dial to fix major environmental problems. But I do know how to get good data and figure out what's going on out there, and I'd like to think I'm starting to turn into an Expert, in my own way.

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