Mary graduated from the Jackson School in 2013 with an M.S. in Geological Sciences and a focus on Geochemistry. After graduation, Mary started her career at a consulting firm in Houston. After realizing it wasn’t what she was expecting, she began a new job search. Mary now works as a Staff Hydrogeologist at GSI Water Solutions, Inc. in Portland, OR.
Tell us about your current job.
My job focuses mainly on water resources and large scale, environmental remediation projects. GSI is known for aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) projects, where we find aquifers in which to store drinking water to be used during periods of high demand. I also assist with superfund site remediation projects.
What does a typical day look like?
My time is split between the office and the field. Most of the time, I am in the office processing/analyzing data and writing reports and proposals. About 25% of my time is spent in the field, overseeing well drilling and aquifer testing or collecting sample and other data.
What type of work environment do you have?
I work in a relaxed office environment. Most of my company is composed of geologists that are of similar mindset and values (i.e. love being outside and beer). The majority of employees at my company are geoscientists. We have a few environmental engineers and a handful of water rights specialists. Field sites can vary from small rural towns to along the river that runs through downtown Portland. Being in the Pacific Northwest, fieldwork is great during the summer and very wet during the winter.
Has a graduate degree proved to be beneficial?
Definitely! Almost everyone I work with has a master’s degree. Very few have a PhD. I think nowadays, a master’s is becoming the standard. Grad school is less about a specific research topic, but more about demonstrating problem solving skills and ability to work independently.
As someone fairly new to a company, what types of projects do you work on?
As a junior staff member, I have assisted with several projects. Many times it has just been data formatting and analysis. I am coming to play a bigger role in bigger projects. I am mostly responsible for field oversight and data collection and processing. I am quickly learning about all the different aspects of projects and should hopefully continue taking on more responsibilities.
What traits, skills and experiences do employers in your field look for in candidates?
While I had had some hydrogeology classes as an undergrad, it was never my main focus. I think having a broad set of environmental-geology focused skills was a plus for me. I have come to find that most employers focus more on a person’s problem solving and reasoning skills versus technical knowledge.
How should students go about finding a job?
To find a job, search out smaller conferences to attend. I never knew there were so many different environmental and water-focused conferences until I started working at my current job. Large conferences and organizations offer great exposure to other academic areas, but companies are more likely to attend smaller, regional conferences.
Are there any important certifications or licenses that are important in your field?
While certifications/licensures may be a small plus to add to a resume, most companies will pay and help you get any certification that you should need.
What other advice can you offer to Jackson School students?
Don’t be afraid to reach out to anyone when you are job searching. I’ve had friends of friends of friends contact me and I always try to help. Everyone has had to job search before and they know how terrible it can be. Apply to anything you are potentially interested in, because you never know what may come of it. I never thought a small company 2500 miles away would be willing to hire me. You don’t have to follow a set path. All of my academic research had focused on environmental geochemistry, and now I spend most of my days looking at cross-sections and analyzing aquifer potential, things I haven’t done in several years but have come to really like.