Alessandra Millican

Alessandra graduated from the Jackson School in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Geology. She works in Austin as an Associate Geologist at Environmental Resources Management (ERM). Alessandra recently sat down with Career Services intern Alan Morales Sandoval to talk about her career and advice for current students.

Can you tell us a little about ERM? 

ERM is a global environmental consulting company that does air work, contamination management, permitting, legal services, and risk analysis.

Describe what you do as an Associate Geologist. 

I mostly work with the contaminated site management group, where I do something different every day. We help oil companies prevent contamination or help them clean up or monitor a contaminated site. We get projects where we help with the drilling, do groundwater research, soil sampling, or write a report with the data that we found.

How did you find your job? 

I always went to the career fairs. I found two internships while I was in college. During one career fair I saw ERM, and with my experience from the internships I was able to go in there really confidently and talk to the people from ERM. They pretty much offered me a job on the spot.

When did you feel this was the right career path for you? 

I don’t feel like anybody’s life is perfect, especially when you graduate. I got really good advice from this senior consultant in our company. He advised you should have 20-year careers, meaning do something for awhile and then switch. I love consulting, but I’m not sure I want to do it forever. I’m on the pro-earth team and feel like I’m fixing messes, not creating them. That’s a really good feeling, so I’ll be in it for awhile.

What traits and skills would one need to be part of ERM? 

They want you to be really self-driven, motivated, accountable, and definitely a team player. They want you to be a leader and confident in yourself and what you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to show your best side.

What are the opportunities like for someone with a BS/MS/PhD? 

You can start with your BS, and ERM will help you pay for your MS or maybe even PhD. I started with a BS, and it’s going really well. If you find projects you’re interested in and pursue them, you can move up really quickly like I have.

What are some entry-level projects someone could expect to work on? 

For geologists you are probably going to work in the Contaminated Site Management Practice, so a lot of soil and groundwater work. You’re going to use all the things you learned in school, especially things related to hydrogeology and soil classes.

Are there any important certifications in your work? 

I would say go after your PG (Professional Geologist) exam as soon as you graduate, because it’s pretty hard. It’d be really good if you come out of school with that fresh knowledge and take that exam.

What do you find most satisfying in your job? 

I’ve been able to travel to really amazing locations for free. Also, the flexibility of the job. You can decide how you want your career to go. Another thing would be the people you work with; everyone is amazing. You also do challenging work every day and you’re always doing something different, so it doesn’t get boring.

What recommendations do you have for someone looking to enter this field? 

Go to career fairs because that helped me, and ERM is at many career fairs. If you meet someone in college that’s in the industry, get their card and email them. Take full advantage of the world class professors that we have at the Jackson School because they’re connections for life, and some of them are world renowned. It’s really amazing that we have the privilege to be learning under them.

What are some specific classes you found useful? 

Hydrogeology and Structural Geology. I took Geology in Texas and it was really beneficial for consulting because I knew the different aquifers and areas of geology beforehand.

What kind of internships or jobs do you think are good training ground? 

I took an internship with a consulting firm in college and that was great because it helped me get my job. Just try out different internships because it will help you figure out what works for you.

Are there any useful publications, organizations or events you think would be helpful to students? 

Join the Geological Society because you can make really good connections. I was in AAPG because Chevron pays for it. You should take advantage of anything that the big oil companies pay for.

What is one thing you wish someone would have told you while you were in college? 

Enjoy all the time off that you have because we don’t get big breaks. Also to take more advantage of office hours and speak to the professors, not just for your classes, but to get to know them. A lot of the professors want to get to know their students. They’ll also help you and make recommendations on what might be a good career or field for you.

3 tips for college students

1) Study REALLY hard. Learn as much as you can and do the best you can in classes.

2) Network at every opportunity.

3) Have fun! In structural geology, at the time, you might not want to wake up at 7 and you don’t want to spend your Saturday doing work, but it’s a really great opportunity. Also, enjoy your time in college because I miss it every day.

Speed Round

What is your favorite mineral?

Loveringite, because Dr. Catlos made us make a Wikipedia page and that was mine.

Describe your work environment. 

Fun, really exciting, great people to work with.

What would you miss the most about your job if you were no longer in it? 

The freedom because I can work from home, or I can travel around the world and do work there. I can also start work trips the weekend before and explore the cities I travel to.

What is one thing you wish you did more of? 

I want to go back to school to learn some more and grow as a geologist.

What’s the most tedious task you have to do in your job? 

Data validation. You have to look at every single detail and make sure they all match up, but it has to be done.

Any last comments? 

If you’re graduating and want to be out in the field and want to be doing exciting work and something different every day, then consulting is perfect for you. You’re around these brilliant people, and you do grow smarter. You learn to think about things differently. It also gives you a new view about the world. It’s really rewarding.

Try to get interview practice, because even if you don’t get the internship, your next interview will be that much better.