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Interview with an Environmental Scientist
Do you have a science background and are considering a career with the government? This ex-military man has used his science background in a 10 year career in the environmental sciences, with five years as a contractor and another five years working directly for the federal government. In this interview he exposes how tiring the travel can be, but also shares the satisfaction he feels knowing that he is keeping people safe, and easing fears after a disaster by testing air quality.

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

A: My job title is Environmental Scientist II and I am a Federal employee of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I retired from the military and have 5 years experience with the EPA, but my time in the military counts for longevity toward retirement. Passionate, enthusiastic, and compatible are adjectives to describe me.

Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

A: I am male and part Hispanic. I have never personally felt discriminated against, but I have heard of it going on at the work place. I don't think anyone knows I am part Hispanic, or maybe I would be.

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A: My job consists of measuring air quality in the field and setting up equipment, as well as training local and state environmental workers with how to measure and monitor air quality. I calibrate equipment and bring it to sites for them to use. I am part of a team that responds to air quality disasters.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A: I would say that my job satisfaction is at the 7 level. My only dissatisfaction comes from the slow movement upward in my career field. I won't progress unless I take more science courses and I am not sure that I want to at my age (56).

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A: I really like knowing I am part of improving air quality and the environment. It makes me feel good about myself and like I am making changes for the better for our citizens.

Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

A: I feel like I really lucked out when I got hired. With budget cuts in the government it isn't easy to find openings right now. I had worked as a contractor for the same group that I now work for and I think that gave me a hiring advantage.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: When I started looking for employment after I retired from the military I was just looking for a job. As it turned out, I worked for about 5 years as a contractor for the EPA and began to see it as a second career. If I were starting out right now knowing that I wanted to work for the EPA, I would have better prepared myself by making sure I took additional science courses in college.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?

A: When you work as a team you really have to work hard to get along with everyone. One time when we were delivering some equipment to another state and hauling some large vehicles, two of the drivers got in a disagreement and one of the drivers took off on his own with part of the crew. They had problems with their truck and we didn't arrive on time and as a team, and I thought we looked unorganized and like something was wrong. As a team we were criticized for not having our act together.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A: No matter what you do, there's a lot of paperwork and you have to do it. You have to be accountable through reports.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

A: When working with a Native American group we had to take part in a Pow Wow. I had never experienced that before and none of us were expecting to have to participate so it was strange for all of us, but also interesting at the same time.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A: I like my job. Recently we had to travel to the Northwest to measure air quality after the Japanese earthquake. Everyone was concerned that the US was going to be catching some of the exposure from their nuclear reactors. It made me feel good to be part of the team that was measuring the air quality and very happy when it proved to be much lower than what was expected.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

A: There is a lot more travel than I ever thought there would be and sometimes that gets old when it is one trip after another. I haven't felt like I wanted to quit yet.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

A: I don't really feel stress about my job other than when I have to be out of town for longer periods of time. I think that if I had small children at home I might feel differently because I wouldn't want to miss my family that much and leave my wife stuck with raising them by herself.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A: A new scientist coming into the federal workforce would probably make in the mid-40's range and someone with more work experience and a higher degree would enter in the 60's. There are lots of step increases and grade increases along the way and many scientists make in the range of 100K when they have some time under their belts. I feel that I have a good salary, but I know that my advancement is limited because of my educational background.

Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

A: Both vacation and sick leave is generous in the Federal government. Because my prior military service counts toward this, I am able to accrue six weeks per year of vacation.

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A: You need a bachelor's degree to get hired and if you want to be promoted along the way, you ought to have a master's degree in the science field or additional graduate credits in the sciences.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: I would tell them that it is very worthwhile and rewarding but explain about the travel and odd things about working for the federal government.

Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

A: I would like to be working in the same job but traveling less than I am at present.