Dear Bill Birkemeier,

I am a student at Watkins High School. Currently I am enrolled in a class, Exploring Careers. As part of this class, I have chosen to complete a "Cyber-Pal Project".

To explain, this project entails me to find a person currently working in the occupation I am considering for my future. I am interested in learning more about Marine Biology. If you agree to work with me I will e-mail you three to five short questions each time I write you and you will e-mail me back your responses. You can let me know how often you would like question sent to you. I must have all replies no later than October 20th. These question will be given to me by my teacher and will be based on the following themes:

If you agree to help me, my teacher, Mrs. Janet Smith, will e-mail you with a letter of introduction to this project. Perhaps, if you can not help me, someone else in this occupation at your business would be willing. Since I am working under a deadline, I would appreciate a reply within 1 week. Thank you for your time.


Laura McKinney

P.S. I recieved your e-mail address from Matt Porter, I took his Marine Biology summer course.

Greetings Laura

Thanks for the email. Your project sounds interesting. However, I'm not a marine biologist. My interests lie more in the physical world of waves and beaches. You may want to find a real marine-bio-cyber-pal. That shouldn't be too hard - check out: which is a resource for teachers that has some scientist links and which is the education site for Woods Hole Oceanographic Insitution (also look at their main site Or go all out and look for marine biologists web pages at lists under It shouldn't be too hard to locate someone in a marine institution of aquarium.

Even better, find a science teacher and build a team to enter the National Ocean Science Bowl Last year's winning team won a trip to Hawaii to working side-by-side with scientists from NOAA and the University of Hawaii.

If all that doesn't work - I can answer your questions, but from a different point of view.

Good Luck, and welcome to the marine sciences!


Dear Mr. Birkemeier,

I would be pleased if you could help me in answering a couple of questions. I was not able to find anyone else. My teacher should be emailing you, and if you could , just for my own information, tell me what the actual title of your job is.. it sounds quite interesting. I've always loved beaches and waves, they fascinate me.

Thank you again

Laura McKinney


Sure, ask away - glad to help. My actual job title is "Field Research Facility Chief", though technically I'm considered to be a "Research Hydraulic Engineer." Attached please find a photo of a young loggerhead sea turtle that hatched from a nest on our property. Of the 82 eggs, 65 little turtles headed into the ocean. Surprisingly, this year several nests hatched in broad daylight - usually they hatch after dusk (and we don't get these neat photos!).


Dear Mr. Birkemeier;

I wish to thank you for allowing a Watkins High School student to be your cyber-pal so that he/she can learn more about an occupation he/she is considering.

In our class, Exploring Careers students have several projects from which they can choose to complete. One of these projects is the Cyber-Pal project. It has been known for some time that job shadowing and mentorships are extremely valuable tools for students to learn about careers. Unfortunately, all students are not able to make arrangements to get out for this actual experience. Through the cyber-pal project, it is my hope that students who are unable to job shadow will gain valuable knowledge about a career they are considering. Many students enjoy being on line to a "real" person learning about an occupation versus simply reading about an occupation in a book.

The student's project is due by October 23. The student has a set of questions that they are to e-mail to you. You can help them set up their timeline for receiving questions and answering to them. They do have a summary to write after all e-mails are completed and some reflection questions to answer. They are required to print copies of their e-mails to you as well as copies of your responses to them. Parents have given their permission for the student to communicate with a cyber-pal.

During this project, if you have any questions or concerns that I can help with, please call or e-mail:

Janet Smith
Exploring Careers Teacher
Watkins High School

I thank you for taking your time and energy to help a young student learn about your career.


Janet Smith

Hi Laura

I did a web search and found your school's home page - unfortunately, no photos and its mostly a work in progress, with not much progress yet. I also found an alumn's page for your school - a bit more there. So how's the football team doing? What's the big story on campus this fall?

Dear Bill,

I am in 10th grade and this year I'm taking geometry, biology, history, Honors English 10, Spanish 2, and this class, Exploring Careers. I am not in any extra curricular activities at the time, but I am involved in something called "More Than Us". Its a program at my school that lets you do volunteer work around your community with other students at your school. I am going to do a walk for diabetes on October 8th, it should be fun. Also, I was a cheerleader for 3 years. I think I discovered in fourth grade that I wanted to become a marine biologist. I know that you are not a marine biologist but I am glad that I have found someone who will be able to give me some kind of angle, because where I live, there aren't too many marine biologists. I've always been very interested in science and math and the ocean, so I think that a career like that would suit me. Oh! and I forgot to ask you where you live, or where you are located at if you could answer that I would appreciate it.
Thanks again,


Hi Laura,

Thanks for your personal bio - it sounds like you are doing just fine. I must admit to not being too interested in biology back in high school - too much memory work. I liked science and math because once you grasp the fundamental equations and relationships - you can always figure everything else out, and usually check out your answer too. Of course all the sciences are interesting - and one of the nice things about marine science is that it embraces so many disciplines (physics, chemistry, biology, electronics, math, you name it) and today there's more emphasis on inter-disciplinary studies, like biologists working with physical oceanographers. In fact some of the most interesting and important work in my field of coastal research is understanding how the critters that live in the beach and in shallow water are affected by beach erosion and beach rebuilding (so I should have paid more attention in biology class) Whichever science you pick, all you need to succeed is a good curiousity about the natural world around you.

As for me. I live in Southern Shores, NC (near Kitty Hawk - home of the Wright Brother's first flight). We've been here for 22 years and have two daughters. My home is about a 1/2 mile from the ocean and about the same from Currituck Sound. (check out a map, we are in the extreme NE corner of North Carolina). I've attached a favorite photo (this is sized for desktop wallpaper) taken last February. Its a really beautiful area. You can also find a lot of aerial views of the Outer Banks on our web page - link to our "Data" page and then link to the photos in the bottom right.

By the way - what beaches have you been to? Which ones would you like to visit?


Dear Bill,

This week my assignment is to find out about your job, and the current job trends in this field. Would you please tell me:

1. About your job
I'm the director of what we call the Field Research Facility (FRF). That's a remote field office of the Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory - the research laboratory that studies coastal, river, and estuary problems for the US Army Corps of Engineers. Our headquarters is in Vicksburg, Mississippi. I have a staff of 9 and am responsible for them, the facility, and our overall operation. It can be extremely exciting, challenging rewarding, and scary - and sometimes all in the same day! Fortunately I've got an exceptional staff - so its usually fun.

2. What your day to day responsibilities are-
Good question - no two days are ever alike (another great thing about marine science). My responsibilities have changed as I have advanced in my career from doing research, to directing the FRF. Most days are filled with email (since we're remote from our headquarters and from most of our users/customers we do a lot of e-mail), planning with my staff, reading technical literature, and working on a couple of research projects. Once or twice a month I drive to DC for meetings with other agencies (NASA, NOAA, EPA, Navy, ...) about coordinating our agency marine science activities. In fact we're right now working on a national education strategy for marine science for students like yourself. This week has been typical. We have a large Navy group here and have all our equipment is in use for their experiment (see attached photo). If you haven't checked it out yet - you can learn about some of our big "toys" from our web page under vehicles. We really like helping others succeed with their experiments. Today it was windy and rough, so that affected our operations - but fortunately we were able to collect the data they need (water characteristics and a lot of other parameters). We're hoping to get a weather break later this week so that we can remove their instruments from the ocean. (by the way - we watch the weather, all the time).

3. How/why you decided to work in this field? for this company?
This is easy - like you I developed a love of the ocean early - mostly from vacations on Cape Cod in Massachusetts and from reading about scuba divers and underwater exploration. I liked science, so it was natural to think about becoming an oceanographer. In high school I did a science fair project about living under the sea and I had a mouse living in an underwater house. As a junior in college I had an opportunity to join an oceanographic cruise out of the Woodshole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) in Massachusetts. We left WHOI during a January storm and I quickly learned that I get really really sea sick! So I decided during that cruise that I would study the oceans, but from the shoreline - and I haven't regretted that one bit. I still go to sea (but for hours not weeks), and I still get sick (though not every time), and I still love it. I have a bachlor degree in physics and a master's in civil engineering with an emphasis in coastal engineering. The engineering's cool because we get to deal with the tough/challenging problems facing the coast, important issues today (watch what Hurricane Isadore does).

4. What you enjoy most about your work; least about your work?
Great People, challenges, cool toys to play with. This is not a 9-5 job (its 12:30 PM now in fact). There's nothing more satisfying than discovering something new - helping someone else, or finishing up a very difficult but successful experiment. Just this morning I saw some really interesting data from a new use of radar for measuring sandbars - this could significantly help us in our studies and it was tried here first - that's cool!
Least like?
Hmmm - well, people can be difficult (can't they?) and I often wish for less email (I think and type way to slowly). I prefer to be out on the beach instead of at my computer doing administrative things. Writings tough too - but necessary. It makes no matter if you learn something - unless you can tell someone else!

5. Is this field growing, declining, or holding?
Growing - and for lots of reasons. New national emphasis, retiring boomers, new knowledge. With more people living at the coast, the need for more research, education, and understanding of our shorelines will only grow. People typically don't enter our fields to earn a lot of $ - but the salaries are respectable and can be great. The rewards are considerable and satisfying.

Hope these help - I've enjoyed typing.


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Over the summer I went to Litchfield Beach (right next to Myrtle Beach and Pawley's Island) in North Carolina. I would love to visit some beaches in Australia. I have heard that they are beautiful (and the surf is great, even though I don't know how to surf, I would like to learn how)

Dear Laura,

Attached photo is from Debidue Beach (just south of Pawley's) - taken after Hurricane Hugo in 1989. What's interesting is that the foundation for the house is in the foreground - the house floated freely until it bumped into another house. If you look close, across the front of the house is a wire (cable TV?) that leads back to the foundation! This is not surprising as the storm surge was 16-20 ft high. What is surprising is that these homes were not built on pilings.

Dear Bill,

My assignment this email is to ask about the education needed for this field.

1. What is the best way for someone new to get into this field?
Read a lot of books on marine science (I started with books on scuba diving and underwater exploration). Explore some of the web sites out there, take part in online cruises (see: for example). As you do these things - you'll start defining what you're interested in - and let that guide you along.

What is the best training or education?
When I was in HS, I talked to an oceanographer at Woods Hole and he said to take a "pure" science (physics, biology, chemistry, math) in college and then to specialize in graduate school. This is still good advice, though you could add engineering or computer science to the list. Doing this, instead of specializing as an undergraduate (i.e.marine biology) gives you a more solid foundation of knowledge. What to take? - you're pick, however be sure to include a computer and problem solving skills.

2. What high school subject would you recommend for this job field.
Science of course - but also Math - which is the best way to get those problem solving skills (even for biologists). Recently we decided not to hire any of three geologist applicants because all had flunked college calculus. Of course we don't typically expect a geologist to be as proficient in math as a physicist or an engineer - but they will still work with lots of numeric data, and they do need to be able to approach problems (even non-math problems) analytically. Math's all about problem solving in a logical way. Its cool - but my perception is that students have trouble with math because of bad teachers and because each class builds on the previous one - if you mess up one class, its affects all future classes. I think girls do better in math in elementary school - but guys take the lead later. What's your experience?

3. Can you explain how Business and English are used in your job along with any other specific skilled courses?
English - this email is an example - (hopefully this prose is clear and correctly spelled). Maybe I already sent this earlier - but knowledge HAS to be acted upon. Action separates learning from knowledge. If we learn something and do nothing - then why bother. We have to tell somebody, change something, do something. Usually we are writing reports and web pages, giving presentations, searching the literature for information, and reading technical reports. So we use all the techniques you're learning like reading comprehension, grammar, note taking, outlining, writing, organizing and speaking. Writing and presenting are things that most scientists loath. I have no trouble with speaking and I write well but real slow. I remember doing a lot of writing in HS (History and English mostly) - that's where I learned to write, even wrote some poetry. I missed writing in college (physics degree) so wrting my master's thesis was a major shock! Now I'm writing all the time - and I worry about the writing ability of today's students - some of the writing I've seen from college students working here has been atrocious! The best way to learn to write - just write. Are you a writer?
Business - Engineers have to take economics and usually some management. Scientists today are often like entrepenuers. They're usually writing proposals for funding their ideas, managing budgets, staff,and workflow. Funding is constantly an issue - so making budgets - and keeping them is important. I manage many accounts with something like 3 million dollars annually (all of which had to be spent by 31 Sept) and a staff of 10 - we're a business and we use business skills. What I didn't learn in college, but have since (and continue to learn) are inter-personal and leadership skills. Of course I started learning these skills long ago - but didn't know how important they were at the time. Boy scouts, school clubs, class officer, camp counselor, etc. all put me into leadership positions early (My advice here - join lots of things and offer to take on leadership responsibilities - its time well spent). People skills are critical to life - something I suspect you've already figured out. However, we have an extra challenge since many scientists are quite introverted.....

4. Explain how technology has changed your job. How do you learn this new technology?
I think most sciences are advancing partly because of the adoption of new technologies. This is certainly true for us. Faster computers, smaller less-intrusive sensors, new sensors, and GPS positioning are having a profound impact. For an example look at which describes a new survey system we use that produces highly accurate surveys of the ocean bottom - but which is totally dependent on the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system to determine the lat/long and elevation of our vessel. Of course we need a speedy laptop computer to collect the data. This system was not even possible as recently as 1994. We have many many similar examples. Our electronics laboratory has at least 4 new instruments that did not exist years ago that we now use routinely. How do we keep up? Easy - we are attracted to things that can help us solve problems - that offer a new look. These are worth investing the time it takes to learn, and we're good at learning new things (in fact its the cool toys, I mean tools, we get to play with that make this job fun and different.
I could write a lot on this - as the new technologies we have today are unbelievably exciting. We have so many new "eyes" to look at the ocean, from satellites, boats, and sensors on the bottom - that the next 10 years of discovery will revolutionize our understanding of the ocean. Imagine - your home computer today is more powerful than the multi-million dollar computers that I started working on - and everyone has one, or more. As another example - back in 1980, Dr. Rob Holman started "playing" around with movie cameras and film to make beach measurements. Today he operates a network of digital beach cameras around the world (look at: ) which are providing a never-before hourly-view of some of the world's beaches. That wasn't possible until the cameras, computers, hardware, and software all were sufficiently developed - and Rob was able to obtain the funding necessary to support his 20+ years of development! By the way, this is a good example of someone who acted on his knowledge.

Well thank you again for your replys, and since my report is due soon, please reply asap! and I will do the same.


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Good luck. Oh by the way, this email took way too long to write - as I said, I write slowly!


Hi Bill

Right now I am in Geometry, and I have one of the top grades in my class, last year I took Algebra 1 and I had A's and B's. I think I do very well in math. You asked if I am writer. Well, you could consider me one. My freshman year I was accepted to take an Honors English 9 class, and this year I applied for the same Honors class only it was Honors English 10, I also do well in this class. I also write things in my own time. I write songs mostly, but also write poems, and the occasional short story.


Song and Poem writing? terrific. Poetry - "the right words in the right order". Between your math and writing you have both sides of your brain working - I'm envious!


Dear Bill,

My assignment this week is to learn about the skills you use in your job.

1. We practice many teamwork skills in school. Do you work as a member of a team, individually, or a combination? Giving examples would be helpful.
Good topic, and I recently had some specific training on teams (which are different than committees, groups, task forces, etc.). We work both as a team (where other team members are dependent on each other for success) and as individuals. Both are important. A lot of scientists like to work solo (recall my comment on introverts). They like challenging problems and eschew people and politics (if they can). I have a number of these types on my staff - and for problem solving and deep, creative thinking, they're great. However, even these scientists are part of a team - and teamwork if fundamental to the operation of this facility (I think you have explored our web site - right?). We all have specific roles that contribute to our overall success.

For example, just to measure the waves outside my window (beautiful today - very surfable) we need a large team effort: Our oceanographer decides what instrument is appropriate for the depth; the electronics technician builds the cable and connectors to hook it to our computers; our Equipment Specialist designs and builds a mount for the sensor; the dive inspector organizes a dive team to help in the deployment; our vehicle operators use the CRAB (see our web site) to drive the instrument to the location. Once hooked up and in place, our computer specialist writes a computer program to access the data coming from the instrument; an oceanographer writes an analysis program to turn the raw signal (usually voltages) into wave data; and our web guy posts the processed data to the web. I left out a few people and steps (like arranging to fund the gauge in the first place) - but if anyone doesn't do their part - we don't get wave data. We use the same team approach to everything we do here. Most importantly, we have learned that teams work best when everyone has a say in the effort and when ideas flow freely. People who have to have their way all the time can keep a team from succeeding. Have you had any similar experiences?

2. Are you given responsibility for problem solving in your work? Please explain if this is done entirely by you, or if you use a team approach to problem solving. Again, an example would be great.
Hmm - my last statement above hits this question somewhat. We are problem solvers, the more challenging the better! The fact that our jobs are not 9-5 keeps the work interesting. What I mean is that in many jobs, when you leave work for the day - nothing goes with you (assembly line worker, bank teller, store clerk, for example) and you start fresh the next day. Instead, we're always thinking about what we'll do tomorrow: new solutions to try, people to call, papers to read, and problems to address. I have an extremely talented staff - and its most fun to watch each person tackle tough problems - and solve them. We have one oceanographer/electrical engineer/computer programmer and there isn't any technical problem, no matter how difficult, that he can't solve - but it may take several days. When we're "on" we eat, sleep, and breath what we are doing. One problem, since some of us have been doing the same jobs for 20 years, we need different problems to solve to keep the work interesting. (Check out the book "Who Moved My Cheese")

We use the same team I described above to address many problems as a team. For example, we had a group of Navy scientists here last month to conduct a complex experiment. Generally scientists know a lot about what they want to do, but not how to do it. This is particularly true at our place where the waves can be huge (~20 ft) and the bottom changes can be large (~6 ft overnight). So our team worked with the Navy scientists to help them design their equipment to take advantage of our particular capabilities (i.e. our CRAB for deployment) and to survive in our environment. Each team member brings their own experience to the table so we get suggestions all around. I think we talked daily with the Navy scientists for a couple of months - sometimes on the smallest of details. It worked! The Navy had a very successful experiment which they credited partly to our help in planning - and our flexibility to change once the experiment got underway. Our group has a terrific can-do attitude which others appreciate. That's the kind of folks you want to be invovled with.
Any similar experiences?

3. How are communication skills used in your job-- between you and clients as well as you and coworkers, supervisiors, and higher management?
The ability of communication is critical to the success of any team - and in my last note, I pointed out that information only becomes knowledge through communication - telling someone else. In the examples above, you can see how communication plays a key role in our activities. We communicate all the time - in the halls, on the phone, email, fax, and meetings. One great thing about email is that everyone can be kept in the conversation - so our technicians see conversations between oceanographers and can chime in when appropriate. Since we are remote from our headquaters I do all my communications with upper management via phone or email. Again email is great because I'm included in all upper management emails which keeps me "in the loop".
I think most personnel problems result from poor communications. You can't act on things you don't know, and when people aren't communicating, they operate on incorrect assumptions and misinterpret information. I make it a practice to talk to my folks everyday just for this reason.
I suspect its the same with your friends and groups that you are in!

4. Are there other skills you use that I did not ask about? What are they?
As a supervisor I worry about fairness - I have to treat everyone fairly or I am trouble. This doesn't mean that I treat everyone the same (people are different and have different needs) but all of the people who work for me need to know that I can be counted on to respond in an expected, fair, rational way (i.e. no teacher's pets!)
I also try to lead by example - I want to work harder than everyone else, be always engaged and interested in what others are doing and appreciative. People, myself included, like knowing that their efforts are important.

These are good topics - I hope you didn't want short answers!


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Hey Bill,

In school I have had lots of projects where there have been a few people in my groups who I wasn't happy to be working with. These people are the kind of people who are very stuborn and pig-headed. Once they got an idea in their head, they absolutely refused to change their mind. Then, after that, the project just goes completely to the dogs. It never works out.
Just the opposite is true, when we have a group project and everybody listens to everybody else and communicates with one another about their ideas and potential problems with their ideas, the project goes great!



I agree! - keep an eye on those people who are able to get the reluctant people to participate and contribute - they're the ones to emulate.


Dear Bill,

Well my assignment this time is to learn about workplace policies, standards, and ethics.

1. Can you tell me about how your company seeks new employees and interviews the candidates? Do you have any job seeking tips or interviewing dos and don'ts to give me?
Our job openings are handled by central personnel offices under the Office of Management and Budget. All announcements are posted to I'm not a hiring expert by any means as we have had a very stable staff (5 > 20 years) and have not done much hiring. We did hire a person this summer but he had worked as a contractor for us for 5 years. (This is changing - I have to hire ~3 people in the next 15 months).
Job seeking tips? Learn everything you can about the places you are applying to. Use the web, library, and trade journals. Then read a guide to interviewing. They provide lots of useful tips - plus can prepare you for the odd question that an interviewer might throw at you.
However, the best jobs are found through people that already know you. So you have to network with all kinds of people. It can be through volunteering, studies, clubs, church - etc. We hire a lot of college students - and the ones that always work out were recommended either by their advisors (whom we know) or were given glowing reviews by their references (see #3 below)

2. Does your company/business have a drug testing policy in place? If so what is it?
No, at least not one we are required to use.

3. What skills do you think are the most important for a new employee to have?
Motivated, self-starter, team player, sees every task (no matter how menial) as important and a learning experience, seeks responsibility, offers ideas, looks for work. When a reference says they'd hire the person again - or "they did everything I asked," we know that they will work out in our work environment. Of course because of our remoteness and specialization - we tend to attract students who are actively steering their future (instead of taking that easy job close to home). Here they have to set up an apartment (in addition to one at college) and basically move. However, the rewards are great in terms of experience and responsibility. You should see some of the resume's we get - many take advantage of numerous special programs in their fields - so they are actively building an impressive set of accomplishments - and a network of people who know them.
Say - you could start building your resume as a sophomore. There are many opportunities - look at - then select "Resource Pavilion on the left - and "Student Opportunities" - there's a number of HS schools ones. Also - again look at "resources." There's a lot about careers in marine science there. Doing this early would help you better define what you're interested in. When I was a HS junior, I took an NSF summer physics program held at a university - a full year of college physics (with homework) in 10 weeks! - It was great and really kick started my science interest. You should consider doing something similar!

4. What is the attendance policy at your company?
Nicely flexible - we can show up anytime between 6 and 9 and leave after 8 1/2 hours. We can work up to 10 hours in a day - the extra hours are called "credit hours" which we can later use to take time off. We are required to work core hours 9-1430. It's pretty fantastic. Of course it wouldn't work everywhere, like in a bank or a store where you have to have regular hours. I've worked before at places where everyone punched a clock and we all had to be at our seats working at 0900. This is better and completely eliminates workplace issues over time. In fact, people stay till the work is done, whatever it takes.

5. Do you have either ethical or legal standards of confidentiality that you must follow while doing your job?
Yes! The government is probably far ahead in this area as have many regulations concerning our ethical conduct and confidentiality. Fortunately, most are common sense, so they are not that difficult to follow.

Check out the oceanographic exploration in Hawaii that's happening now at:


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Dear Bill,

I would now like to learn about balancing work personal/family life.

1. Approximately how many hours a week do you work? Is it common to take work home? What kind?
As I've said before, this is not a 9-5 job consequently I take work home a lot. Usually its the fun stuff, so its not a problem. For me that's data exploration, programming, reading, or software learning - things that I want to do, but are less important (relative to other things) at work. If I have a big deadline, or need to really focus - I'll even stay home and work. Its different for everyone - some seldom take work home. I always have so many cool things that I want to do that its natural to just keep working. I also feel responsible to get things done that other's are waiting for - and that too may require work at home. How many hours? 10-20 hours extra a week.

Oh - almost forgot - when there's a hurricane here, or a big experiment - 12-14 hour days would not be unusual. Of course, when marine scientists head to sea, they could be gone for weeks, or months (and love every minute of it!).
Shoot - its easy to work when you're having fun - in fact, that's not work!

2. Do you travel? If so how much? Is this expected?
Yes - last year I made 26 trips - that's one every other week. 14 of those are to Washington DC where I serve on an interagency committee that meets monthly. Yes its expected - but I have considerable control over my travel schedule. Some of my co-workers are expected to travel 50% of their time (wow!). The amount of travel depends on the position. Fortunately my girls are grown so its easier for me to travel now than when they were young. Some of my folks have asked to travel less - because of their family needs and we try to accommodate that as much as possible. However, they are concerned that might affect their career advancement.

3. Will you be expected to relocate? Have you relocated in the past?
I could be transferred at the direction of our lab chief (my boss) - but that's unlikely in my position. Its more likely that I would apply for a position elsewhere.

4. Are ther other responsibilites such as civic or social obligations that come with your job?
No - but as we advance in our careers we're expected to participate in professional society activities (i.e. American Society of Civil Engineers, American Geophysical Society, etc.). These might be committee membership, conference organizing, leadership, journal editing. We don't have a strong local/civic connection.

5. How has this career allowed, or not allowed you to live the way you prefer?
It must be okay - as I've stuck with this for 20+ years! I work very hard, always have - but that's my choice, no one else's (see #1 above). Most importantly my work has allowed me to live comfortably and to have an impact on the advancement of our science. Its very gratifying to attend a technical conference, or to read a journal, and to hear how the work we have done has made a difference. This is one of the things that separates scientists from lots of workers - our passion/excitement about what we are doing. The rewards are great!


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I am now looking for any final tidbits and help for deciding if this career is suited to me.

What advice can you give to me as I begin the process of setting my career goals?

Dear Laura,

I sent some suggestions to you in my Monday response.

Here are some thoughts:

  • First - accept full responsibility for your career - you are in charge. This sounds so trivial - but I've had people in our organization blame everyone else for their career "problems" (bad bosses, not enough time, everyone else gets the good assignments, etc.) - Lots of excuses and most likely, a lot of missed opportunities.
  • Recognize that every decision you make, from studying for that geometry quiz (or not!), picking your college, or accepting a job is a step along your career path. You have a limited amount of time - invest it wisely. Keep asking how each big decision will affect you in 5 years.
  • You are seeking a career that is satisfying and relates to something you are passionate about - something that makes you want to get up in the morning. This is the key - and it has very little to do with making money (unless the act of making money excites you). If you succeed, work is not work - its fun.
  • Continually evaluate your situation - when work is no longer fun or exciting or satisfying - move on (even when your comfort sensors say stay put!) - it will never be the same. Avoid complacency - be restless.
  • Burn no bridges - always leave amicably - even bad bosses are part of your network and a future resource.
  • Continually seek new experiences - particularly ones that stretch your comfort level. This is important early - as you try to explore as many options as you can before you "settle" down.
  • Keep your focus on the big picture (your career) - if you do, the little things (office politics, problem people, tedious assignments) become only minor distractions.
  • Most importantly - always be true to yourself

Good Luck! I'm sure you'll do well.


PS. its been fun typing.

Enjoy the attached photo (one of my favorites) from Jockey's Ridge State Park, a neat moving sand dune. A favorite local activity is to watch the sunset from the top of the ridge. Check out: (my oldest daughter did their web site!)

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Thank you so much for helping me with my project, I know it took a lot of time and energy and I appreciate that. I have learned so much about you field of work, about the hours, working with a team, and individually, and about work travel and relocations. I more now then ever think that this type of job is the job for me, I read about many things and the more I know the more I enjoy reading about it.

Thank you again for all of you time,
Laura McKinney


Great - thanks for the thanks. If you are ever in NE North Carolina - be sure to stop in!


This webpage was created by Cory Giordano. July 2004.