Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rock-Paper-Fossils? An informational interview with a professional hydrogeologist!

Somewhere out there, in the vast, nothingness of space,
Somewhere far away in space, and time,
Staring upward at the gleaming stars and the obsidian sky,
We're marooned on a small island, in an endless sea,
Confined to a tiny spit of sand, unable to escape.
But tonight,
On this blog,
On Earth,
We're going to rock civilization...

Speaking about rocks, i am deeply sorry for the hiatus of posts, but i was preparing something special. It's my first informational interview, from a woman that has so much knowledge about water, ground and fluid mechanics. I wish i can achieve half of her achievements. A warm welcome to Sandie Will. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to absorb some of your wisdom and the chance to share an insight about the daily life and challenges of a geo/hydrogeologist to aspiring students.

Greetings Sandie, please give us a short introduction about yourself!

Hello young geologists in the making! 

I am currently the Geohydrologic Data Manager within the Data Collection Bureau for the Southwest Florida Water Management District in the United States. This is one of five state agencies in Florida and the agency is responsible for flood protection, water supply, water quality, and protecting the environment. The Geohydrologic Data Section is primarily responsible for collecting lithostratigraphic and hydrostratigraphic data through coring and testing to 3,000 feet below land surface, well installations/abandonments/repairs and aquifer testing. I have a staff of 15 that includes Professional Geologists, hydrogeologists, supervisors, drillers, and technicians. All of our work is available to the public in reports on our website at http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/data/geohydrologic/
I received a Bachelor of Science in Geology from the University of South Florida in 1997 and a Master of Science in Environmental Engineering Sciences from the University of Florida in 2010 with a specialization in water resource planning and management. I am also a licensed Professional Geologist in the State of Florida. Prior to my work at the District, I was employed by environmental engineering firms in the private industry as a hydrogeologist for 10 years. My work was in environmental consulting where I performed various contamination and wellfield assessments. Most of my work included overseeing drilling; collecting soil, sediment, surface water and groundwater samples; performing aquifer testing; describing lithologic samples; designing wells; analyzing data; preparing reports; and presenting the results to the client. 
I have been married for 27 years and have two boys who are 21 and 23 years old. I have two webpages including www.rockheadsciences.com where I share stories about my career and travel and a blog series called, “A Day in the Life” where geologists from all over the world share information about their careers and advice for students. My other website is www.sandiewill.com where I have an author page. This includes a blog with short stories and Twitter tips and information on my novels. Recently, a publisher has accepted one of my novels, a young adult thriller, so it will be published in a year or two. I am very excited about that!
I am also a novice writer, though i write short stories myself. I totally understand your passion and excitement! So Sandie, what actually made you pursue a career in geology/hydrogeology?
Prior to geology, I worked in the medical industry for about 12 years and reached maximum potential for salary increases at the doctor’s office where I worked. So, I decided to go back to college at the age of 30 and pursue an accounting degree. For this degree, I had to take a physical science class in junior college, and there was something about it that intrigued me. I only lasted one week in the accounting program at the university level before I ran over to the science building to talk to a counselor, and a year later I declared geology as my major. This was the best career decision I ever made. Currently, my pay is more than four times what I was making at the doctor’s office.
This sounds like a great reward for your efforts! Hydrogeology actually sounds really exciting, what is the most interesting part of your job you think? Also what is the hardest aspect of it?
The most interesting part of my job is reading the reports when the geologist is finished with it, especially the findings in the cores and identifying different aquifers and confining units. Our lithology is primarily sand, clay, chert, limestone, dolostone and evaporites. There are numerous fossils from ancient shallow seas including corals, foraminifera, echinoids, gastropods, mollusks and sharks teeth in the cores too. It is amazing to me that the drillers can retrieve cores to 3,000 feet below land surface with rocks dating back to late Paleocene about 56-59 million years old. These are not drill cuttings - they are full cores! So, it helps with giving the geologists an idea of the formation characteristics. We have several aquifers in our region including the surficial, Hawthorn, Upper Floridan and Lower Floridan aquifers and differentiating them requires a combination of numerous data including water levels, water quality, aquifer testing (i.e. hydraulic conductivity), rock identification, key fossils and discharge rates. The hardest part of my job is having to tell someone they are not doing a good job. As a manager, I have to make difficult decisions sometimes about how an employee is performing. 
Shark teeth and fossils dating back 60 million years, wow! Having to make the tough calls as a manager must be indeed the hardest thing, but leadership and decision making makes a great leader and a successful project. What about your early life, did you ever dream of achieving such heights? Leading a group of 15 people, having a great position, a rewarding salary, as well as teaching and nurturing young talented people.
Honestly, no. When I was young I was told I was only average by some teachers, and so I thought I’d never be able to handle difficult classes. Boy, did I prove them wrong! I passed calculus, physics, chemistry, etc. with no problems. It wasn’t until I was older that I had the self confidence to go back and take those types of classes. Now, I feel I want to give back. I have a passion for helping students, because I think with encouragement, there are many who would do well in sciences. So, many times we are told we “can’t” do things, but isn’t it refreshing to hear from someone who says you “can”?
Read this first line carefully please. Being told you are average means nothing, if you have the passion, the dedication and a plan, you can achieve anything. Someone once said that a fool with a plan can do better than a genius without a plan. What you believe, you CAN do. Since we started talking about the mental qualities and traits, can you please share with us the 3 most important qualities a young aspiring hydrogeoloist should have to boost his professional career?
Most important is great communication skills, whether its verbal or in writing. A hydrogeologist will be required to do presentations and write reports, and a person will move up farther and more quickly if they have strong skills in this area. Second would be to have a positive attitude and be open to learning from mentors. Everyone likes to work with cooperative people and the value of learning from mentors is priceless, because their experience will help you learn more. Third would be to get in the field during the early years. Field experience is extremely important and will help you later on as you move into more senior roles. Be proactive about researching and learning all different types of field work and then find your specialty. 
What mental attributes do you need to succeed as a hydrogeologist? It looks like a physically demanding job sometimes, but one that can also offer loads of excitement. 
A hydrogeologist needs to be able to handle extreme outside conditions such as thunderstorms, heat, cold, and various critters such as spiders, snakes, etc. Hours are long and many times you may have to work alone in remote or industrial areas. Also, he or she must be able to handle stress and make quick decisions sometimes. On the other hand, it can provide you with experiences you would never have otherwise, such as the time I saw a shuttle liftoff at NASA, and met the pilots and saw the inside of a Black Hawk helicopter just because I working at the sites. 
So would you suggest this career path to others?
Definitely! It is a challenging and interesting career that is different every day. It is also rewarding because you feel like your are making a difference for future generations.
So you got your degree after all those hard working years in college. How easy is it to get a job if you are highly specialized, like in this field of work? Also is the salary adequate/rewarding for your efforts? 
I would say it is difficult to find a job at first if you have no experience, but it’s not impossible. Just keep going on interviews. While in school, try to get as much field experience as possible through field trips and internships. Make sure your resume is professional and includes all of the field experience and any modeling or other software experience. The salary is well worth the effort, and hydrogeology is very rewarding. To make additional pay, it is a good idea to get a professional licensure and Master’s for private industry or government work. Of course, for academia, a PhD is the best way to go.
I am in the process of deciding about academia, but the sheer excitement of the field makes me lean towards the private industry. However, i see many people with no vision or goals, what is your suggestion to them? Shouldn't you have pathos, desire and hunger to make the world a better place, chase your dreams and make the difference?
I think it depends on the person’s situation. Sometimes there are extenuating reasons for this. However, if it’s someone who needs inspiration, my advice would be to find a role model, hang around positive, proactive people, have confidence in yourself, leave fears behind, write down short and long-term goals and meet them, be open to change, and allow yourself to succeed. If you’ve had negative influences in your life, prove them wrong. I did. 
Damn right you did. I hope anyone who reads this proves his/her doubters equally wrong. Lastly, a bonus question. Do you have any suggestions to make our university more water/Eco friendly?
Educate all students and faculty on water conservation and protection. A great way to do this is to have them teach it to elementary school children. It’s amazing how much more they know about this than adults! Use rain barrels to collect water for irrigation, as well as drip irrigation equipment, rather than spray types. Low flow toilets and automated shutoff faucets in the bathrooms also help. Use reclaimed water for irrigation rather than potable water. Stick to native plants that don’t require intense amounts of water and be careful with herbicides that can contaminate water ways and springs. From what I understand, Sweden is way more progressive in this area than the United States. I’m sure those in Sweden could teach me way more about this subject than the other way around!
Thank you very much Sandie! It was an amazing experience and i learned so much from you! I am sure our readers too! Any closing words to wrap up this wonderful interview?
Being a hydrogeologist is an important and rewarding career that will allow you to make a difference in society by helping to ensure future water supplies are sustainable and protected. Shortages in water supplies are eminent in the future for many areas around the world, and the hydrogeologists of tomorrow will be called upon to meet this challenge. Remember to always think long-term, rather than just the years you will be working. The affects of what we do today, may not be seen until way after retirement! Have fun, never stop learning and most of all, share your knowledge with the next generation.
Kostas Mandilaris, MSc. in Earth Sciences.
This concludes my first informational interview! For more info, please by all means read Sandie's wonderful blog and article series, A day in the life, it is well worth reading. Wish her luck and success in her future endeavors, as well as her new novel in the making!
What amazed me and made me feel happy, is that she accepted with great joy and pleasure to give answers to an interview, to a person she didn't know before, from the other side of the planet. So for one more time, thank you Sandie Will!
Stay tuned, i will hope to do more interviews like this!

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