Wednesday, December 25, 2013

hey southern (US) geologists

The state of Louisiana is starting the process of getting a professional geologist license program together. Go here for the full details. They are having a very short grandfathering period for applications before the official registration process. They're still working out the details of what that process would be, but they were looking at Texas as a model (5 years' experience, BA/BS, a test). They're also approaching other states (mainly Texas) for potential reciprocity.

The deadline is January 1 - a week from now.

And merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

year in review

This year, I'm just having one "year end" post - no more resolutions. This was my best year of blogging: I have a job that I love, doing interesting science, and unlike in grad school, my sweetie is with me. So on to the annual end-of-year meme!

Same rules as always: link to and list the first sentence of the first post of every month. If the first sentence is an apology or an aside (bad habit, I know), then I skip that sentence and go on to the next.


Since it's the start of the new year, I figured I'd do some cleaning up.


Anne Jefferson sent out a call for posts that explain something complex using only the 1000 most commonly-used words in the English language. 


I graduated from college and started looking for a job during a local ebb in the job market.


 Ask a manager has a recent post requesting tips for young professionals attending their first conferences, and the post has a long list of good suggestions.


Janet Stemwedel has a new post up regarding the use of massive open online courses (MOOCs) in (replacing) university classes. 


I had a lively (heated?) discussion with a bunch of other geologists a while back about getting what you need from a drilling program.


I've been holding onto a couple of blogs that appear to be defunct, or which have officially ended.


When I was writing my last post about my blogiversary, I had two ways I wanted to look at this blog.


It's been more than a decade since I graduated from college, and I was wondering what everybody ended up doing.


The US government shutdown has impacted the environmental biz in a bunch of ways, some obvious and some not.


I have a ring that doesn't come off.


Logging samples involves a whole series of field tests and observations.

In case you're curious, all of my previous year-end memes are linked to last year's post. I was out last week because of holiday obligations/shenanigans, but I plan on posting somewhat regularly from here on out. Happy holidays, and have a safe new year!

Friday, December 13, 2013

the blog persona

We are in an era where sometimes it seems like everyone and his brother has a blog.

I'm close to three people who independently have a passion for the same subject - one which I have no particular interest or expertise in. They each have a blog on that subject, but they approach it from completely different angles, with varied writing styles, website layouts, and experiences they draw from. I get a kick out of seeing how each person's personality gets channeled into their writing.

A regular reader will definitely discern something of my personality (and foibles!) from this blog. I think it's fairly obvious that I'm, well, me, not some borg-like collective of environmental folks. However. Short Geologist is only one facet of my personality. Hell, I started writing because I was trying to excise the stories that I was carrying around, so that I wouldn't become an inappropriate geology-spouting bore.

After more than 5 years, Short Geologist has sort of taken on a mind of her own - somewhat of a perfectionist, more than a little high-strung, and highly opinionated. But that's ok - getting that out of my system allows me to be fair-minded and to take the broader view in the office and in the field.

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.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

facility advice

I've worked in a number of large/secure facilities where I had some sort of daily procedure to get work done. This was generally either to reach something that was usually inaccessible, or to get a needed resource, like large quantities of water for drilling.

These places often have a protocol to get what you need that takes some finagling to set up. You have to go through various channels to convince the bureaucracy that you're an acceptable contractor and that you have the right to get whatever. Once you have your paperwork set up, then you have some sort of daily/as needed check-in procedure.

Here's the important thing: after a while, the guards or the maintenance staff will get comfortable/tired of you and will let the required check-ins slide, or suggest that you don't need to do that. Unless you are specifically told not to bother anymore by someone with authority, don't stop checking in/signing in/calling as you were told to do. Because if someone changes shifts or there's an internal audit or the general security level goes up, either you will be holding the bag or security/maintenance will. You can play "dumb contractor" and say that lower-level security/maintenance peon said it was ok, but if you throw those folks under the bus, you will find that your daily/as needed check-ins will become painfully thorough. Also, being a jerk has long-term consequences for you as well as the project.

It is far better to have security/maintenance roll their eyes at you for being a stickler than to breeze along in your interactions with the facility until someone in charge finds out and you come to a screeching halt.

Monday, December 2, 2013

field consistency

Logging samples involves a whole series of field tests and observations. Some of them are straightforward and reproducible as long as you use the correct procedure. Visual observations, however, tend to vary by the individual. Are you a "grouper" or a "splitter" when you see different layers? When was the last time you calibrated your internal sense of what a particular grain size looks like?

The environmental biz tends to have a revolving cast of characters, and often, the training to standardize field observations misses a significant portion of the group because they're out in the field on some sort of time-critical (and billable!) project. And although the soil texture and other geological observations are important when you're trying to figure out where contamination is going, they're generally not considered to be as critical as the chemical data. So unless a high-level geologist pushes for training and standardization across the organization on a regular basis, the field staff tend to develop their own methods of transcribing what they're seeing.

If I'm reviewing field soil logs, consistency is key. It's far easier to figure out what the stratigraphy is like if the project had a single geologist, or just a few. Or, if someone actually has a discussion about what they're seeing and the group agrees that they're going to call this greenish-gray color "olive" and that this friable, gray-white stuff is indeed fly ash.

What usually happens is that the site has a long history, with several different contractors poking holes in different areas depending on what was found in the last phase, the budget, and changes in regulations. So when I need to write a report and pull in all these different logs to develop a complete picture of a site, I have to decide if this "till" is the same material as this "sandy silt" and whether we have a rainbow of different units or someone was colorblind. Not everybody writes their observations, either.

All this matters because I'm trying to extrapolate between logs. Do we have continuous units that are consistent barriers to contamination migration? If a particular unit always has a certain chemical signature, can we find it again if we go back to the site without spending a fortune in analytical costs? Now, if I could only convince the rest of the field staff to think "big picture" when they're out there in adverse conditions...