Monday, March 26, 2018

Technician vs. scientist

When we're talking about entry-level field staff, some people tend to talk about the "techs", and I recently overheard a young geologist refer to himself as a "field technician". In consulting, field technicians and entry-level scientists are not the same thing, even though what they do in the field can look awfully similar. This is why I always refer to the samplers working under the supervision of a field manager as "field staff", because they can be either.

Generally, a technician does not need a four-year degree, has a clear list of regular, standard tasks, and does not make field decisions. A field tech is not considered a "professional" and therefore is not exempt from overtime rules. So many  consulting firms claim that all of their junior staff are scientists who happen to also take regular samples/measurements. They really need to watch it, though, and make sure that those junior scientists are also working on more technically involved work and are in a position to make project decisions.

Technicians are not necessarily low level staff. I work with a CAD (computer aided design) technician whose pay is on a similar level to my own even though I have two more degrees and ten years more working experience than they do. While the CAD technician does some really cool stuff these days, the person who manages, reviews, and signs off on the drawings/renderings is a licensed professional scientist/engineer.

In my experience, field technicians (vs. scientists) are relatively rare in consulting. But this may vary by region/corner of the environmental business...

Friday, March 2, 2018

still not an advantage

When I was writing the previous post about having a young-looking face, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a late-middle age man who has always been "the smartest guy in the room" and expected (and received) instant respect his entire career. I had mentioned disliking how young I look in passing, and he said, "but that's such a career advantage!"

I'm usually reasonably even-keeled, and I'm the last person to start a fight in public (think cocktail party), but I had to fire back. What possible advantage could it be that every time I meet someone new in a professional situation, they peg me as a nobody, someone who couldn't possibly be very knowledgeable in (whatever I'm there for). Yeah, I pleasantly surprise a lot of people who were initially thinking "why on earth is she here?". And I can prepare a mean ambush for those who are on the other side in technical disputes. But it is so much work to get that respect that is just immediately granted to other scientists who look the part. I work on my physical presentation (stance, voice, etc), I have a whole strategy for how to work in my years of experience at whatever the task is, I make sure that I have all my technical backup ready to go and that I know the subject cold... and then everybody else just rolls in and does their thing.

You may be wondering if part of the problem is that I look young and I'm female. Yeah. The whole package really doesn't help. But that's a whole other post...