Friday, July 27, 2018

Quality control

There was a side discussion that blew up a bit in last week's Ask a Manager, and now that I'm actually at a computer and can type, I can't find it. Anywhoo, there was a dispute regarding academic vs. industrial quality control.

As a scientist who has done reasonably similar work both in grad school and at work, there is no comparison. Academia just doesn't have the same controls compared to even the cheapest, lowest common denominator fieldwork in the environmental business.

If we do a site investigation, we have at least some basic standard operating procedures (SOPs) that are listed or referred to so that anyone can see what we were supposed to be doing. The samples remain under chain of custody to ensure that there's no tampering. The samples go to a laboratory that's been accredited to run those particular analyses, and then we get a lab report that either is included or is referred to and is available upon request. Any report, no matter the size, gets at least one review by someone who didn't write the report/pull together the tables and figures. And then the client gets a crack at it, and then the regulator(s) can comment. Even a simple real estate transaction between two private parties can get escalated if sampling turns up concentrations higher than certain thresholds, and you can be sure that any follow-up sampling from that will have lots of scrutiny.

Once you start entering into the realm of Real Money, feisty stakeholders (such as irritated and well-educated neighbors), and litigation, it gets much more involved. The folks doing the actual sampling may be overseen by a third party in the field, which may collect their own sample sets (split sampling) and send to their own labs. You may have consultants retained by the polluter, the neighbors, the town where the contamination is (or at least the board of health), and environmental/health advocacy groups, all with their own agendas, poring over the data and coming to their own conclusions. Quality control and documentation becomes critical for everything. Academia just doesn't compare to this.

Monday, July 23, 2018

office to field

I got a good question on this post regarding the transition from office to field attire in the same day. Guys have it easy in this respect because even if they work in a formal environment, they can just wear khakis to work and then lose the tie/roll up the sleeves and not look ridiculous if they have to run out to do something "clean" in the field (grab some equipment, meet someone, etc).

I have to admit that when I'm in this situation (and it comes up relatively frequently in my case, because I run out to meet clients or regulators on site walks/inspections/technical reviews), I dress kind of like a guy for the day. I am not at all a polo wearer normally, but I do have some company branded polos that fit ok and don't look sloppy untucked (nothing looks right tucked in for me), and I have a pair of boot-cut khakis that fit over steel-toe boots. The khakis are from Gap (from like 10 years ago so they're totally out of fashion) and they're more of an office style than a "jeans" style (flat pockets, a bit drapey, etc), so they're more formal than just jeans. If it's cold out, then I can wear a nice office appropriate top, because if I'm in the field I'm going to wear a jacket anyway.This is going to sound kind of silly, but last time I needed to buy steel-toe boots, I deliberately picked a pair that were dark brown and had kind of a nice finish so that they went well with khakis.

I actually work in a relatively formal office, but the corporate branded polo (or cardigan) + khakis or dark jeans says "I would not dress like this normally, but I am going to a site". If the office is very formal, one could wear steel-toe boots with this the whole day (ugh. who wants to wear their boots more than absolutely necessary) to give the impression "I am just here briefly before I do fieldwork". Even in a formal office, an environmental consulting firm will an exception for people who are running to the field.