Case Study: Hydrogeologist - James

What do you do?

There are three branches of hydrogeology: environmental hydrogeology, water resources hydrogeology and geotechnical hydrogeology. I specialise in water resources hydrogeology.

That involves supplying water to people's houses, farms, industry and public water supply companies. In the past, I've also been involved in mining - getting rid of water from underground mines and open pit mines.

What is your background?

I started studying geology at school. I studied geology for O level (because it was O levels then) and then went on to do a degree in geology and then a Master's degree in hydrogeology.

I started to study hydrogeology during my degree course, and then after my Master's course, I got a job in hydrogeological consulting and worked my way through that.

What characteristics do you need to be successful in your job?

Like most jobs, one of the key skills is care and attention to detail. I think one of the key requirements for a hydrogeologist is a love and enjoyment of the great outdoors.

A lot of the work we do is outdoors and, like any field-based subject, if you don't like being outdoors and getting wet occasionally, then hydrogeology probably isn't for you.

What other jobs could you do using the skills from this job?

Hydrogeology stems out of geology, and that's a fundamental science subject, so any science or science-based subject would benefit from geological or hydrogeological training.

Hydrogeology itself also involves quite a lot of engineering, so you could move from hydrogeology into various engineering disciplines and particularly ground engineering disciplines.

Hydrogeology also involves dealing with people; lots of hydrogeologists work within consultancies and that's all about dealing with people and the service industries.

So, moving from hydrogeological consulting into sales, media and different types of service companies is quite possible.

What changes will there be in the future?

Although it's a bit of a pun, the field of hydrogeology is very fluid and it's always changing. It's particularly changing in terms of the technology that's used to find and locate water, to clean water up if it's been polluted, and to increase its use.

We're using computers and IT systems increasingly, to manage and interpret data, and to construct complex models of the hydrogeological systems.

There are big advances in the area of environmental hydrogeology, eg, clean-up technology. In the future, I think there'll be advances in the link between hydrogeology, hydrology, which is the study of rivers, and ecology, the plant and animal life that lives in those rivers.

I think the biggest advance will be in the way those subjects go together to try to protect and save the environment in general.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?

I think the challenging aspects are keeping up with the changes in technology; things are moving quickly and it's important that you take time to learn the new skills that are coming into place and the new methods and technologies.

The other challenging aspect of the job is having to stand outside in the winter and do the job in the rain and snow.

Are there many opportunities to enter this career?

At the moment, the opportunities in hydrogeology are very good. There's a shortage of hydrogeologists, and the demand is very high.

So, the sort of sectors that one can look to work in are both the public sector, particularly with the Environment Agency, the private sector in industry, and that is particularly with the water companies, and then the private service sector, within consultancy.

And there's a wide range of consulting companies employing hydrogeologists, in a wide range of different roles and jobs.

What do you like about your job?

The job is varied, and the places I work are varied. Something new generally comes up every day and we don't have many weeks that go by that are monotonous.

For instance, this week I'm talking to you from Leicestershire, and, next week, I'll be in Romania, and that's about as varied as it gets.

What do you dislike about your job?

I've been doing this job for about 20 years, so there can't be that many things I dislike, because I wouldn't still be doing it.

But I think the thing I disliked most, and this is going back a few years, was standing on a mountain side in February, in a blowing gale, sleet and snow, having to do very tedious, slow and laborious survey work. But, fortunately, I don't have to do that quite so often now.

What are your ambitions?

My ambition now, after having worked in this industry a long time, is to bring new people and new ideas into the hydrogeological industries.

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

Anybody that wants to get into hydrogeology needs to get a solid grounding in maths and science at school, through GCSE and probably A levels.

Look to going on to a degree in probably an earth science, geology or geography, or possibly an engineering science such as civil engineering, or hydrology.

And, it may also be necessary to go on and study a Master's degree, specialising in hydrogeology or a related subject.

It's also important that the social sciences aren't ignored, and a lot of hydrogeological work involves writing and communicating to other people, so keep an eye on your English and your presentation skills.

A day in the life

8:30 am - 9:00 am

Arrive at the office. Think about the plan for the day, open mail and check incoming emails.

9:00 am - 11:00 am

Concentrate on getting a report finished, with some solid data analysis and report writing.

11:00 am - 12:00 pm

Make phone calls to catch up with clients and to answer queries that have come in on the previous day.

12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Think about lunch - but decide to give it a miss, as I need to prepare the equipment to take out for the afternoon's fieldwork.

1:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Drive out to meet a client and visit a site. Discuss borehole requirements, designs and siting. Go on to the Environment Agency to discuss the necessary permits.

4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

Nip back to the office to see what the afternoon has brought in. Check any correspondence that needs to get into the last post. Start to plan for tomorrow.

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