I'm a young geologist considering long-term career options and life directions. Please tell me about your experiences (as a geologist) in grad school, industry, or government/regulation. Or your experiences working in video/photography, as that is an alternative career path I'm considering.
posted by Strudel to work & money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a geologist working as an environmental consultant for an engineering/environmental firm, investigating and remediating old industrial sites in New Jersey. This post can feel somewhat ungrateful given the struggles most people are having these days, but here it is:
I like my job. Compared to most jobs, it seems to be fairly fulfilling, interesting, pays pretty well (especially for just having a BA), and I have good bosses, who are competent managers and talented professionals in their own right. Turns out having superiors you respect helps a lot. However, having said all that, I realized that I can't see myself doing this in ten years, and I don't see myself enjoying management, either. And I'm very conscious of the salary trap. I'm not in this for a money, but it is all too easy to become accustomed to a certain lifestyle and fail to explore other avenues because of the necessity to change (or reduce your economic means) lifestyles to try other vocations.
By virtue of the fact that I tried (and continue to) to pick up as many employable skills and as much knowledge as I can, it seems like I have a lot of options, but I try to work out long term plans, so I would welcome any insight or experiences you could share with me. So here are my thoughts:
I. I have continually thought about the idea of getting a PhD. But this comes with several complications:
1) I'm very uncertain about what I want to do and it's a big commitment to sign on for 5-7 years of school, and I'm not comfortable with the notion of dropping up, giving up, or changing my mind 3 years in.
2) I don't know what I want to specialize in! There's a lot that falls under the general heading of Geosciences, and while I could see myself doing a variety of things, I haven't really been able to narrow that down to even a subfield to look at grad schools for. Perhaps going to the grad schools and talking to people might help, but right now it seems like I just have too many choices. Options I've considered include hydrogeology, geomorphology, sedimentology, climatology, oceanography and environmental geology, but that's not narrowing it down a lot.
3) For me, the big elephant in the room is, could I hack the life of an academic? I would be the first to admit that the academic schedule did not exactly suit me; I did manage a 3.4 GPA overall and a 3.8 GPA in my major, but that was in spite of my failings as a student. I think my work ethic has improved since then, and I worked hard back then, but this would be far more challenging than college. More to the point, while I did pretty well in geology classes, it was other things I struggled with: my math abilities are not fantastic, and as a result I really struggled with my year of chemistry and calculus. I'm glad I had them, because now I won't have to have those just in order to go to grad school, but what if the path I choose requires a lore more study of those (and physics?). It doesn't help that despite assurances that I needed them, all my general chemistry classes proved to be pretty much useless to me at work, and I certainly haven't needed calculus. I got all the chemistry I actually use in my geology classes.
4) If I go this path, will it be necessary or worthwhile? I don't know if I would enjoy being an academic; I think I'd probably like teaching and research, but I really wouldn't know until I tried doing it full time, like I have with my current job. And won't competition be fierce? As it's a smaller field, I know I don't have it nearly as bad as the biologists, but it still seems like there are far more qualified people than jobs available. That having been said, a PhD would be good for more than a professor job - I could also go into government or regulation, or do research. Though it seems like those jobs are even more elusive...
II. I spoke to a guy who did a half-year stint in Antarctica, doing science. I feel like it's only practical for one to pursue opportunities like this when young and relatively unattached - fieldwork and science out away from the comforts of civilization. Experiences you can't easily get other ways. I'm told I'd have the qualifications for work like this, and it's worth doing if I can land it. Seems worth pursuing, but I'd probably have to quit my job to pursue opportunities like this.
III. I spent a lot of time through college and afterwards doing work in photography and video, and while I'm continuing to do this on the side as a personal side business, I do enjoy working in media, and I wonder if it would be worth pursuing a more formal career in it, but of course, this has its own complications:
1. This is a very competitive field. Many, many applicants for a comparatively small number of jobs. I think I have or could learn the skills I need relatively quickly, but I'm not willing to take an unpaid internship or do low level "get me a coffee" grunt work just to make a contact. I'm not exactly expecting to be a director right out of the gate, but I don't want to leave my job for non-creative work, though I do recognize that experience is paramount and one must work their way up. Perhaps I'm spoiled by my personal experience, but I feel like one should be able to get a job on merit rather than contacts. Unfortunately, what I hear of the industry seems to argue that this is just not the case.
2. I'm a generalist. I can shoot, and edit both stills and video and perform much of the supporting work to a degree that's high quality enough to impress the uninitiated, but it seems like the way to be valuable is to be fantastically good at a small number of things, rather than the whole process, unless what you want is to be a one-man band, as I am accustomed to being.
3. I've worked enough to know at this point that creative jobs can be a lot less creative than you were hoping. Now, they can open a door to better things, but I'm not wild about the idea of spending 5+ years to develop a career and wind up editing crappy commercials (I'd be okay with doing artistic commercials, and if you want an example, I'll post a link). So, a similar problem: I'd have to try it to know.
IV. I could stick in my current career track and hope I come to like it better, which is a possibility. I've only been at this for about a year and a half, and been promoted once already; the company will reimburse 90% of my costs to go to grad school for my masters, which I would have to do, as it is the barrier to advancement. Or this could eventually lead into a career at a government agency if I worked hard to go that route. Again, the serious risk here is the salary trap, or simply becoming too comfortable to seriously consider something radically different.
I'm soon to turn 24 and I'm an impatient young person. I try not to rush, but I'd like to at least be somewhere on a career path by the time I'm near my 30s, or at least have a plan to modify. My current plan is to work at this job another couple years, as my car will be paid off soon and I'll be able to save enough money to have a nest egg with which I could move to the city of my choice and start over doing whatever it is I decide to do. But time is precious, and I would like having a more concrete plan to work off of even sooner. At the same time, I'd be working on all my media stuff on the side, as another option for breaking into the media industry is to produce your own work on the side until you're good enough to get something substantial.
I would welcome any input, personal experiences, or corrections for my misconceptions on all of this. If you have any questions or are at all curious about my situation and experiences, I will be happy to answer any way I can. Thanks for sticking with me through that wall of text. If you couldn't:
TL;DR - I'm a geologist doing environmental consulting considering getting a PhD, doing adventurous fieldwork, or a job in digital media if I could land it. Your input or experiences very welcome.