Saturday, August 2, 2008

Question from a reader: preparing for jobs in hydrology

I've got a question from a reader, and I'm probably not the best person to answer it. She's a sophomore geology/environmental science major, and she's looking for advice about how to prepare for a career in hydrology/environmental geology.

What will exist in three years? Where are we going? How do I ensure I will be marketable as a woman in the geology field? What things should I be involved in now that will help me then?

I don't have a crystal ball (and my Gore Mountain garnet, although big enough, is blurry and hopelessly stuck in the Precambrian). And worse, I've never worked outside academia. I get some ideas about what it takes to get a job by talking to recent alums, and to people who might hire my students, and to people on the internet, and by reading the American Geological Institute's workforce data snapshots. But that's not the same as having been there myself.

So, with those caveats, let me gaze into the Magic Garnet Crystal and see what it says.

What will exist in three years?

I get the sense that hydrology jobs have remained fairly steady, compared to petroleum and* mining (which have boomed). Hydrology seems to be driven by government regulation - local, state, and federal agencies hire hydrologists for monitoring or research or to collect data that will make it possible to tell what's changed, and private environmental companies exist to help other companies comply with regulations. So I think the future of hydrology depends on who wins the next election (at all levels of government). But hydrology doesn't seem to boom or bust the way the resource industries do.

Also, hydrology/environmental geology has hired geologists in the last twenty years. Petroleum and mining companies are currently trying to hire young geologists to replace the ones who are about to retire. My generation (who got work as hydrologists) isn't retiring yet, so hydro probably won't experience the same squeeze.

So my guess is that there will be jobs, but it will take some work and searching to find them. (I don't have a good idea of exactly what those jobs are likely to involve. Anyone reading want to answer?)

What things should I be involved in now that will help me then?

Employers often contact people that they know (college professors, students who have worked for them in the past) when they've got a job opening. My department gets a lot of e-mails asking whether we've got any good students who could work during a summer, or who are ready to take a full-time job. We've started forwarding the messages to all of our students, but if a professor can think of someone immediately, that person has an advantage in applying for the job. So you want your professors to know what you're interested in, and to think of you when those questions come up. (That's potentially a women-in-science problem, if the professor remembers the male students first.) Doing a good undergraduate research project on something related to hydrology might help you stand out.

Internships can be good opportunities to explore career options. Working for a government agency (like the USGS) during college can make it easier to move into a permanent position after graduation. And internships in the private sector can help you build a resume and might lead to a full-time job, as well. (Finding interships can be difficult. Talk to your professors, and check out your college's career center. They might have good leads.)

Networking in general helps, too. The Association for Women Geoscientists can be a good group for networking - the chapters have activities in various parts of the country, and the newsletter discusses career issues a lot. (Also, environmental geologists seem to be very well-represented in AWG.) There are mentoring sessions for students at regional and national Geological Society of America meetings. Some regions of the country have regional hydrology societies, which could also be good resources.

It may also be good to prepare to become a certified professional geologist. You can also become a student member of AIPG (the American Institute of Professional Geologists). (And even if you don't, there is career information on the student section of their website.)

How do I ensure I will be marketable as a women in the geology field?

You know, I don't think women have a lot of individual control over the sexism we experience. So... be good at what you do, be assertive, network, write and revise your resume, etc., etc., etc. It's not very different from advice I give to male students. But beyond that, if you don't succeed right away, if you get asked annoying questions about your personal life, if you get harassed... don't blame yourself. And keep trying. The biggest piece of advice I could give to a woman in science is: cultivate resilience in yourself.

The second biggest piece of advice would be to find friends (or family, or a partner) who will support you in what you want to do.

That's the advice of the Magic Garnet Crystal. It's full of inclusions, though, so it's not the most trustworthy oracle around. Hopefully some other readers will comment.

* See the comment by BrianR below. Brian works in the petroleum industry, and has seen hiring slow down this year.


BrianR said...

"I get the sense that hydrology jobs have remained fairly steady, compared to petroleum and mining..."

I can't speak for hydrology or mining, but the petroleum hiring looks like it might be slowing a bit ... at least from my limited perspective. Even though oil companies are raking in profits, things aren't as booming as you'd think. Several companies are talking about significantly slowing the rate of bringing in new-hires right out of grad school. The reason is that, even though these profits are high, the cost of doing business is skyrocketing even more. I think there's a incredibly misconstrued perception that oil company geologists are sittin' around lighting cigars with $100 bills. Not so. There's increasing rumbles of cost-cutting.

That being said ... if you can find a job in petroleum that challenges and keeps you interested, you can certainly make a sufficient living.

Silver Fox said...

Kim, I think you have a lot of good answers here, coming from your Magic Garnet Crystal - so maybe it's not hopelessly stuck in the Precambrian afterall! ;)

My sense is that hydrology and environmental will continue to be good fields to be in. Both types of geologists can get work with mining companies, too, which makes the field a little broader than it might seem at first.

hypocentre said...

I suspect that hydrology jobs could actually slightly increase (globally) over the next three/five years, especially if climate change causes more drought.

Kim said...

Brian - I've noticed that, although AAPG and AGI have been trying to sell petroleum careers to students, the oil industry hasn't gotten to the point of hiring people without graduate degrees (except for logging core). And I saw the stories about Exxon-Mobil's profits last quarter - and about how they were producing less oil for more money.

(The mining industry has been hiring people with BS degrees. And small environmental companies have been hiring at the BS level all along.)

Hypocentre - but are hydrologists used to find water? It seems that people who are worried about drought hire engineers to build reservoirs (here in the American West, certainly), dowsers to find groundwater, and lawyers to try to get water rights away from other people/states. Hydrologists can help manage water wisely, but people don't always want to do (or even know) what's wise.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking time to post my questions, I really appreciate the feedback.

Conservation, preservation, adaptation and mitigation are where my heart is when it comes to water and energy for that matter. I see what you are saying about politics, outside the typical (government) hydrologist job, this sort of position needs to be created and in some lucky cities around the northwest our elected officials at the local and state levels are realizing exactly this.

I do understand that networking is what will save me outside of my resiliency and support group. This year I have an opportunity to work part time for the USGS if I can master my heavy class load (which I will put all I have into doing exactly that!). I am also in touch with environmental engineers who are working for the EPA. I am fortunate enough to shadow and hangout with them on their cleanups. I want these people and their firms to know that I would love to live and work here after school.

I look daily at hydrology jobs and they are in serious demand in places like (forgive me if you love these places and want to or already do live there) Las Vegas, Reno, Southern California. I know these locations will not be a good fit for me, for who I am and the quality of life I seek. I really, very badly want to work in the city in which I live now.

Regarding your advice as far as getting involved with national associations etc I am going to do everything I can to be involved in the community now. Up until this point I have been a silent participant, attending lectures, city council meetings, seminars etc. I see the importance of getting my foot in the door now, this is what will potentially allow me to stay here instead of be drafted to some horrid place where the idea is to consume more and pull clean water out of dry air. Sort of sounds similar to what I think the petroleum companies are doing.

I will continue practicing the assertion thing. This does not come naturally to me, although all the successful women I know say the same thing, yet execute it so-oh well.

Do you mean annoying personal questions like: Are you married? Do you have kids? Are you planning on having kids? Please tell me that these are not relevant questions anymore and considered harassment.

Silver Fox said...

Those are not relevant questions, IMO, and one way to deal with them is to redirect the interview back to real topics.

The only way I could see any relevance at all is if you know the interviewers and they might be trying to help your husband (if you have one) to get work, or something like that. Maybe.

The problem with married or not, children or not, is you're screwed any way you answer, at least from certain viewpoints. If you aren't married, you're dangerous to other people's families, if you are, then your husband presumably has priority and you will leave to follow him. Likewise with kids. If you have them it's a problem; if you don't it means you will shortly be having them.

It's all ridiculous, but that is the way some people think.

Kim said...

For the annoying personal questions, I was thinking of this post by Female Science Professor. I've never had anyone ask about my marital or family status, but I haven't interviewed for many jobs, and my husband came along on my last job interview (to search for a job himself, because finding two jobs was necessary if we wanted to move). I think it's illegal to ask about marital status now, but I'm not sure. Cool employers won't ask unless they're trying to sell their company's family-friendly policies to you.

At this point, being a silent participant should be fine - it's a way to learn about the field.

It's probably also important to know how much you can commit to without going insane - you don't need to network with everyone and do an internship and so forth. Do what you can do well, and what you enjoy, and be aware that you can network at the same time.

As far as assertiveness goes - I learned it while taking a women's self-defense class (that talked about verbal as well as physical defense). There are a lot of other places to practice, though, both inside and outside geology.

And about wanting to work where you live right now - I would also suggest being patient and not giving up, in that case. It's easier to find a geology job if you're willing to relocate, but water is important everywhere. It might take time to find the perfect job, though. (And some non-profit organizations might also be good places to do environmentally relevant work. You might be hired as something other than a scientist, but be able to use your scientific training in some way.)

Anonymous said...

Along the lines of you have any for a recent graduate looking for graduate schools and only finding schools in countries other than the U.S? I am interested in structural geology and tectonics and have a particular interest in the effect of past glaciers on pre-existing faults; more specifically how isostatic adjustment affects rates of faulting. I have found several researchers in Canada and was wondering if you knew anything in particular about Canadian graduate schools and/or funding?

Joe Kopera said...

Kim already suggested the AIPG, which is an excellent organization-- there's lots of great advice in their quarterly publication, "The Professional Geologist." I also recommend going to a meeting of your local chapter of the AEG. Our chapter (based out of Boston) has a fair number of active members who are women and successful in their careers.

Chris M said...

As someone who is just starting work my first job in the hydrology/environmental geology sectors, I would offer some advice for "what should I being doing now".

Try to pick up real world skills/techniques as much as possible. Hydrology is a pretty technology saturated field and there are endless instruments, models, programs, etc... You can't be an expert at the all, but having used them puts you a step ahead. At least have a good grasp on GIS. It is really become a mandatory skill, not something that sets you apart.

As someone else mentioned, in the US (sorry for being US centric) most of the hydrology jobs are in the west were lack of water is a big issue.

I would highly agree with what Kim said about the number of jobs with greatly depending on the election (US centric again). I know some government agencies are basically not hiring, waiting to see what type of budget situations they will have in the future.

Chuck said...

I interviewed with a remediation/ consulting firm a few years back, and didn't get the job. Afterwards, they told me that they wanted somebody with industrial experience. So if mining jobs are available now, that could be useful on a resume down the track.

Anne Jefferson said...

I haven't read the comments here yet (I'm hopelessly behind), but did y'all see the feature article in this week's Science magazine about the job market for hydrogeologists? The word "recession-proof" was mentioned prominently. I think I'm going to hand it out to my students on the first day of class.

Anonymous said...

Good Article

Can anyone answer if it is professional to ask while job shadowing, "Why there are no women on the team?"

Robert V. Sobczak said...

I'm a National Park Service hydrologist ... and also a fellow "blogger." The focus of my blog is south Florida's water cycle and interconnected wetlands, including the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee.

With regard to professions, I never intended to become a blogger ... I sort of backed my way into it by way of a weekly update of data I was doing.

It's unclear how blogs will factor into work places ... but its clear that people with lots of energy are producing quality blogs ... and often not really getting credit for it in their profession (it becomes something above and beyond what they are already doing).

It's a topic definitely worth more thought.