Daily Archives: 11/3/2002

What it is exactly that I do for 40+ hours a week.

Work. I am an environmental engineer. There are a few kinds of environmental engineers. There are the waste water/waste management environmental engineers. They make our water safe to drink, and our poop stinkless. That’s not the kind I am. I work with hazardous waste. Not with my own two hands, though I’m certified by OSHA and the federal government to do that if I need to, but from several hundred miles away.

I work on a nasty hazardous waste site. I’ll call it Lake Nasty. We’re busy quantifying the wastes, and figuring out how it affects people and animals. Next, we’ll figure out how to clean it up. It’s an interesting project – one I could build a career from if I wanted to.

It’s hard for me to explain exactly what I do and why I am working so hard lately. Maybe this will help: I am involved in rewriting a 7-volume report. Each volume is 4 inches thick. I have to look at every table. Every figure. Reformat everything before it goes out. I don’t spend lots of time on the science, but I am still coordinating some of the work. These reports are due at the end of the year, but there’s a big (and nasty) internal review process that requires us to finish the report completely three times. The reports are so big and involved, and so open for dispute, because the site is several square miles big, and there are at least three different kinds of toxic chemicals which have been historically disposed of onsite (and not in nice easy to manage barrels, either) over the last 100 years. Plus, we’re working on a court-ordered deadline, so we can’t even beg off for exhaustion, computer problems, lack of data, or insanity.

So I’m working really hard. I’m a consultant, so it’s kind of the way things are to make the junior level people do all kinds of huge work because they’re cheap. It’s kind of common to have a couple of well paid PhDs doing the thinking, and for each PhD to have a couple of lower level scientists or engineers at their beck-and-call to make tables and figures to help well paid PhD understand the data quickly, and to write the text for them to check.

Yep – I’m a peon. For 40+ hours a week. Time to go back to grad school, so I’ll be a well paid and glamorous PhD!