USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Northwest Irrigation and Soils Research Laboratory in Kimberly, Idaho
Where do you work? How long have you worked there? What do you do?
My responsibilities are to solve or improve environmental issues as related to agriculture in the US Pacific Northwest. My most recent work has focused on the use of biochar to help offset CO2 emissions, improve soil fertility, and sequester heavy metals from the environment.
How is your profession related to Environmental Science?
Directly. As a research soil scientist, my current and past research has focused on improving environmental quality by reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions with various agricultural practices and soil amendments, protecting source waters by increasing our understanding of off-site nutrient movement and thus preventing nutrient movement, and improving soil fertility status (using materials that otherwise would go to waste) to improve crop growth and nutritive status.
What are the most rewarding aspects of managing your career?
If you love making a difference you will love being a soil scientist. You help solve real-world problems, work with a great group of intelligent people who make you strive to be your best, and at the PhD level the sky is the only limit. Did I fail to mention a very flexible work schedule?
How has your BYU education benefited your career and would you recommend any specific course background for your field?
I could not do what I do without a PhD. For professor or scientist positions you need at least a PhD to be considered. A post-doc doesn’t hurt either. In terms of specific courses for a soil scientist, I would recommend taking as many soil and chemistry courses as possible. And don’t be afraid to repeat a course if a) it has been a while since you have been exposed to course material, or b) if it is the same course title but a different teacher; you’re bound to learn something new.
What changes do you see or expect in your profession in the near future?
Tighter funding opportunities and thus less opportunities for individuals.
There is a common misconception of lumping environmental science with environmental activism. How can our department best address this perception problem with our students and employers?
Activism is a good thing as long as the activist is armed with solid knowledge. Educate your students to think scientifically before they become activists. Perhaps a course that touches on scientific principles or thought processes would be good.
How can students best network within your profession in order to gain employment or internships? Does your company have internships that may be of interest to our students?
Students need to make connections to gain employment with the USDA-ARS. With that being said, a great network is already in place at BYU – have your students talk with their professors. In my field everyone knows everyone because we are a relatively small, tight knit community. This is true for many professions. Depending on what and where a student wants to work, professors in the college should have a contact for that student.
Does your company have internships that may be of interest to our students? Who should they contact?
As far as I know we don’t have internships at my station. We typically hire summer help which would be for a 40 hour work week. If interested, the student should contact Dr. Dave Bjorneberg (my station’s research leader).
Do you have any general advice for our students or our faculty with regard to your profession?
I love what I do, and I am fortunate that I found a portion of the environmental sciences appealing at a young age. I would advice students to try and find what they think they would love to do and pursue it. If it doesn’t fit right, change your major and try something else that is appealing. You should figure that as an adult you’ll spend about ½ of the time you are awake at your job. You need to love being there … and to be honest it won’t feel like work. For your faculty, continue to be excited about what you do as it can be contagious for those students who will follow in your footsteps.
What other professionals do you know who might also be helpful resources for the students (alumni or not)? Please offer any information that would be relevant.
I would suggest that your students also talk to others that have MS or BS degrees. Getting a PhD is not for everyone, and landing a job with an MS or BS can be just as rewarding. You can have your students contact any of the technicians at my ARS location