There are endless career possibilities to satisfy an affinity for the earth sciences. How do you know which direction to pursue on the environmental career path?
In this installment of our Careers in Environmental Consulting series, Senior Hydrogeologist Brian Waggle shares his path of discovery from cartography to hydrogeology. We’ll explore the typical responsibilities, required qualifications, and rewarding aspects of a career with a small environmental consulting and engineering firm.
What is the typical role of a Senior Hydrogeologist?
I see a senior hydrogeologist’s typical role as overseeing all aspects of soil, soil vapor, and groundwater contamination projects of all sizes and scopes. Ideally, that means involvement from the initial phases of site characterization including the identification of compounds of concern, to the delineation of contamination, and ending with remediation and closure.
As part of these projects, they manage staff and contractors daily and maintains regular communication with clients in developing and maintaining an approach to effectively meet all regulatory requirements. When working with a small consulting firm, they can also expect to assume certain administrative roles, such as marketing or public relations. They also spend time training and mentoring young staff, providing leadership when needed.
What career did you imagine for yourself as a child?
When I was young, I imagined being a surveyor or civil engineer like my grandfather, father, and uncle were. I would climb up on their drafting tables and look over their graphs, calculations, and maps and was really impressed. Then in high school, I became more interested in cartography alone. I took an introductory-level geography class in junior college. A portion of that class included an introduction to geology, and I found it very interesting.
What career did you plan to pursue when you began college?
Because of the class I took in junior college, I decided to transfer to a four-year university in Nevada and major in geology. At the time, mining in Nevada was in a lull, and mining geologists were not in demand. So instead of focusing on mining geology, I took a wide range of geology courses and other science electives hoping to keep my career options open. Geoscience is a diverse career field so I highly recommend exploring different aspects like geology, atmospheric science, environmental science, sustainability, natural resources, hydrogeology, geography, and mineralogy. Also, consider applications like consulting, regulation, law, policy, education, engineering, and research. Finally, think about work in public, private, and non-profit sectors.
What drew you to environmental consulting?
There were environmental projects being conducted in and around my hometown while I was in college. I got to know some of the people in charge of these projects and they invited me to come out to see their site, describe what happened and how it was being addressed, and let me see their consultants at work. The work really interested me, and I was hooked.
What was your first job out of school?
My first job out of college was as a manager of an assay lab in Sparks, Nevada. It was interesting at first, preparing rock chip and soil samples for analyses and discussing the results with mining companies. But I soon tired of the job mostly because of the monotony.
How did you end up in your current role?
Well, I suppose by performing well at each successive position I held as time went on and seizing advancement opportunities that arose. I believe career growth comes from dedication, expertise, and the ability to adapt. These attributes enable you to assume more significant responsibilities over time.
What is your favorite part of this job?
Lots of things really. The work is very interesting and challenging. There is travel. But in my case, it has been limited to the southwestern US, which I prefer.
Oftentimes, we are working with a limited amount of subsurface data. So, it is satisfying to me when creative thinking, instincts, and inferences turn out to be accurate and can be used to guide the project to closure.
I also feel intense satisfaction when our team completes tasks on time, within the client’s budget, and the results are well-received by both the client and regulatory agencies.
And finally, the work that we do in this industry does improve soil, water, and air quality and helps to reduce health risks for all of us.
What degrees, training, and certifications were required for your career path?
It’s common for senior hydrogeologists to have a bachelor’s degree in geology, hydrology, or another related field. Graduate degrees are a big plus. I have a bachelor’s degree in geology and decades of training and experience.
Professional registrations and certificates in the states where projects are located are also very important. Oftentimes, these registrations are required by firms before employees can reach certain management positions. I am a registered/professional geologist in Arizona and California, a certified hydrogeologist in California, and a certified environmental manager in Nevada.
In some cases, geology or related degrees are not necessarily needed to get into the environmental industry. I have seen many people with other degrees or sometimes no degrees have fine careers in consulting if they have a true interest in the industry and are willing to work hard. One limiting factor for these individuals though may be that they would not be able to obtain the certifications or registrations that are often required for higher levels of management. But a person doesn’t have to be a high-level manager to have a rewarding career.
What traits have helped make you successful?
A person is usually their own worst judge, but I’d say having a fundamental understanding of hydrogeology and elements of remediation engineering, an interest in continuing to learn and experience new skills, an analytical approach to problem-solving, attention to detail, and the willingness to work hard and be flexible with work hours when the job requires them have contributed to my successful career.
Were you provided with advice or mentorship along the way?
Many people have given me advice over the years. What has helped me the most has been simply watching how successful people go about their work, managing projects, managing staff, dealing with problems, and interacting with clients and regulatory agencies. Seeing what doesn’t work for others has also been very important. That’s been valuable to me.
What would you tell other people considering a career in environmental services?
I would tell people that our industry can be a very challenging and rewarding career. And among other things, the industry literally does make the world a better, cleaner place. I see that catches the attention of many more people these days than in the past.
What resources do you recommend for launching an enviro career?
I’d say the most important resource is your network. Get to know people in the industry, especially people in specific jobs or disciplines that you find interesting. That is how I got my first opportunity. You can meet these people through internships, joining industry-related associations, attending trade shows, conferences, and seminars. Just get out there and meet as many people as you can. And don’t give up. Like any job, you’ll get turned down, sometimes many times. But you only need that first job to get your start. It’s what you do from there that matters most.
Want to grow your career with a small, employee-owned consulting firm? Learn more about our specialty hydrogeology and environmental engineering firm and explore our current career opportunities at www.hargis.com/careers/.