What is your current job and what does it entail?
I currently work for a regional government agency and am coordinating the development of a comprehensive Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan for the six counties and three towns that make up our planning district in eastern Virginia. Because natural disasters are not often contained within county boundaries, developing a multi-jurisdictional approach will encourage localities to work together to reduce the devastating effects of natural hazards through mitigation efforts. By having a federally approved hazard mitigation plan in place, our region will meet federal requirements and become pre-positioned and more apt to receive available mitigation funds (such as the Pre-Disaster Mitigation (http://www.fema.gov/fima/pdm.shtm) program and the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (http://www.fema.gov/fima/hmgp/)) before and after the next disaster strikes. My day-to-day work typically involves working with GIS databases to answer geographical or spatial questions about hazards such as flooding, coastal erosion, hurricanes and wildfires.
What was the key factor in your career decision?
What do like most about your career?
I accepted my current position because it provided me the opportunity to gain over a year of experience working with GIS databases and hone my ArcGIS skills. It also allowed me to continue to live in a spectacular part of the country, the tidewater Virginia region, while completing my Ph.D. dissertation in the evenings.
I like working with people and doing things that, at the end of the day, make me feel like I've made a difference. This project allows me to do just that because one of the project goals is to develop and conduct education programs that contribute to natural hazards awareness and help reduce hazard-induced human, economic and environmental costs. I also enjoy working with GIS databases because this emerging technology is very dynamic as new data comes available almost daily. GIS projects also allow me to work meticulously and precisely while providing me a creative outlet in producing maps for different reports and presentations.
What do you like least about your career?
I spend most of my time inside, either in my office working on a computer or at meetings, and I often find I would much rather be outdoors. The slow pace of government contracts and meetings is also frustrating.
What do you do to relax?
I try to get outside as much as possible. During graduate school, I spent many long, arduous days out in the field on the water and now that I spend most of my workday inside, I find I miss that part of my former daily routine. It's very relaxing to spend a weekend afternoon pulling weeds in my garden, fishing from my dock, and going on walks with my dog.
Who are your heroes/heroines?
What advice would you give a high school student who expressed an interest in pursuing a career in your field?
I think scientists, particularly women, who are able to balance the demands of their career and family are completely amazing. I am also a big fan of Ira Flato from NPRs Talk of the Nation Science Friday because he has the opportunity to speak with a diverse array of scientists about so many astonishing topics every week. I hope one day to be involved with a project that will draw public interest and allow me the chance to spend a Friday afternoon with Ira.
Try to get some exposure to GIS technology because having this skill can open up many opportunities in a number of fields. Jump at chances to do internships or volunteer in research labs to explore different aspects of science that interest you. Always stay curious, ask lots of questions, and make sure your college professors know you so they can write letters of recommendation tailored for you for your graduate school applications.
Are career opportunities in your field increasing or decreasing and why?
The opportunities for hazard mitigation planning are increasing with the growing availability of homeland security funding and federal requirements for community mitigation planning outlined in the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. Because over 50% of the United States population lives near the coast, there is widespread concern over coastal hazards such as flooding and hurricanes. Planners with training in coastal systems are highly sought-after to address the wide variety of issues important to coastal communities (e.g., water quality protection, habitat conservation, hazards management, etc.).
What will you be doing 10 years from today?
The current contract I am working under expires in 2005, so I expect that I will not be in this same position in 10 years. I'm a benthic ecologist by training and hope to get back into a more research-oriented position where I can use some of the GIS abilities Ive gained as a planner. I do know that whatever I will be doing, I will be spending some of my time underwater, continuing to be astounded by aquatic systems, asking questions and having lots of fun.
Salary:$25,000 - $40,000