It’s at this time every year that I feel as if I’m committing a crime by falsifying information on my income tax return. It’s not that I’ve set out to bilk the United States Treasury out of money, but rather, I’ve told somewhat… in a round about, kinda-sorta gray area statement about my occupation, when I proudly penned the word “Geologist” after signing and dating my tax form. But, I am a Geologist! I’m a CPG in the AIPG society and my work involves the study of Geology with an emphasis on the environmental side of the house, among other things that are not even remotely related to geoscience.
In the Jan/Feb 2008 issue of The Professional Geologist, Patrick Leahy (CPG-10507) threw out some staggering numbers. He stated that of the 6,000 new bachelor-level majors in the geosciences each year, less than 13% (<780). When I look back over my career since graduating from the University of Kentucky (BS) in 1993, I am not at all surprised by these figures. In fact, the career path of an aspiring student with a newly minted geology degree is shaped more like a spider web than a straight and narrow pathway. As anyone that’s ever taken worked in the environmental field is well aware of, the geology path has several disciplines that overlap with other career fields, and can even lead to more lucrative employment in totally unrelated careers for those not afraid of forsaking their love of earth science..
When I graduated from college, I really expected to go to step into a job as a hydrogeologist at some huge firm, and start working my way up until I was captain of the ship. I figured this would probably take a few years (at lest 10), but hey, I had a geology degree and new that I was an oddity that would be quickly recruited and brought into the fold of a high paying firm. Then, reality set in.
I came to realize that the field of geology is pretty small and very connected. I also learned that there were other geologists with a whole lot more experience than I, seeking employment. Sadly, I realized that my degree was simply a piece of paper that said I can work for someone, have the discipline to stick to it, and have a strong background in science. With that in mind, I started looking for anything that would get my foot in the door at a place where Geologists work.
After a couple of months of searching, I was offered a job as an Air Monitoring Technician with an environmental consulting firm. My first reaction to the offer was to turn it down because at that time, I could have cared less about air, I wanted to work with water, soil, and rock. But, hunger pains caused me to jump at the chance to make $6.50 and hour and be able to say that, “I am an environmental consultant,” even if it was only sampling for Asbestos and Lead in the air.
I worked in Air for about a year, learned a ton about how things work in the real world, and then an opening as an entry level geologist came open. I took it, got a fifty-cent raise, and started learning about logging drill cuttings and doing pump tests. Finally, I was doing what I wanted to do. Then, life happened, and I needed more money just to make it. So, I jumped ship, signed up with some friends that started an air monitoring company, and doubled my salary. I was at a low point because I was afraid I had taken a step backward in promoting my geology career, but I was about to find out that was far from the truth.
Throughout the next year, the air monitoring opportunities became scarce and our small company needed to diversify just to survive. It was in that turmoil that I was asked to train as a Construction Safety Representative. I didn’t want to, partly because I knew nothing about Safety, nor did I want to travel. But it turned out that I really had no choice in the matter if I wanted to be able to eat and pay my rent. So, I spent the next year learning everything I could about Construction Safety. The problem was, I missed all things geology. I even missed monitoring the air for asbestos! After all, asbestos is mineral.
Though I learned a great deal about Safety, I missed the environmental work, so I started searching. Eventually, the connections I had with my first company led me to a job as an Environmental Geologist with a new firm in town. I learned a wealth of information about underground storage tanks, Phase I and II’s, and even taught the 40 Hour OSHA class on the side. By this time, I had a pretty diverse background compared to most geologists my age, but a new problem had arisen: I was homesick.
I had moved away from Eastern Kentucky during college and missed it. I put out some feelers in the local industries, but all to no avail. But then, I got a call from my sister that worked with a lady that’s husband was a Geologist with a coal company with a need for someone like me. I immediately took the job, got a huge pay raise, and moved back to my home town.
I spent the next 6 years chasing drill rigs through the mountains, interacting with the locals, walking ridgelines, and logging core samples. As you can imagine, this was the job in which I utilized my “Geology Degree” to its fullest (I actually got to use my rock hammer, bottle of acid, and a compass!). But, this would all come to a halt in the summer of 2003 when I was laid off due to downsizing. So here I am, 32 years old, married with a six month old baby, a mortgage, an SUV, and no job. But that’s when the other paths that my geology career have taken me in the past, came in handy.
I landed a job as a construction safety representative and started making more money than I had ever made in my life. And, it was fun to get back into a field that I had been away from for several years. The only problem is, construction is seasonal and I new it would come to an end, and it did in May of 2004.
But, that same month, I was made aware of an opening in the steel industry that the company was having a tough time filling. The company was in dire need of someone that could step in and manage their Environmental and Safety Departments. All of the applicants they had interviewed had experience in either environmental or safety, but none had experience in both. That’s where I had a chance to step into my current job where I look after the Safety and Environmental Departments of a Steel Mill.
Obviously, my current position could never have been obtained had I not been willing to learn other jobs and diversify my resume. And, I’m still doing this today as well. In the past four years, I have also taken on the responsibilities of Security, Loss Control, Insurance, and even Workers Compensation Benefits. It’s more duties, but I know through past experience that it’s worth it to whatever future career path I may find myself peering down.
So, if there is one thing you can take with you from my story, it’s that you need to always be willing to learn other tasks because you never know when they may come in handy. This is especially true for anyone finishing up their degree and hoping for that first job in the field they devoted the last few years studying. Or, for the segment of the Geologist population that are out of the field and trying to break in, take my advice and look for any job that is even remotely related to Geology. And when you land one, be a sponge and absorb all the information you can and don’t limit your self to strictly geoscience disciplines. Mark my word, one day the opportunity will arise and you’ll be able to wring out your sponge full of knowledge and gain a big leg up over your competition.
So here I sit at my desk, mulling over what my occupation really is as it relates to my tax form. Ever since I graduated from college, I have always written “GEOLOGIST” on this line. But should I try to write small enough to put “Manager of Safety, Security, Loss Control, Workers Compensation, and Environmental”? Nah, I think this year I’ll enter “Geologist et al”.