To Dredge, or Not to Dredge?

Or:  How I ended up in the Environmental business.

Have you ever stopped to think how you ended up doing what you are doing?  For me, my story begins in college.  I was a freshman at Binghamton University.  Just like with everything, I handed in my housing slip too late and got my last choice:  Dickinson Community.  The dorms that everyone claimed were for “the geeky kids”.  Great.

In the fall of 2002 I moved into my third floor dorm room in a building called “Whitney”.  There I met a whole lot of new people, one of which became known as “my best friend from college”.  We clicked instantly.  She loved the same type of video games that I did and she was also a vegetarian, just like me.  She was an environmental science major, who loved the outdoors and became a vegetarian so that she didn’t contribute to animal cruelty.  Throughout my college years she really opened my eyes to a lot of new things.

One of those new things was the field of environmental science.  I knew it existed.  My father worked for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.  I just had no idea what it was all about.  Her excitement about the field led me to take courses like Environmental Science 101 and 201 where I learned all about it.  Eventually I even took a course about farming and sustainability.  Going to visit local farms and learning about organic practices was probably one of my best experiences in college.

It was in one of those courses where I first learned about the Hudson River Dredging project.  I wasn’t much into the news back then (or ever really) but it was discussed intermittently throughout the years as the EPA and General Electric fought over what to do about the river.  See back in the day, GE was allowed to dump chemicals into the river to dispose of them.  The river became incredibly polluted.  The EPA was trying to force GE to pay to clean up the river.  In this course I took, we were asked to write a paper about the controversy, and state our opinion on it.  I wrote a paper titled “To Dredge, or Not to Dredge?”.  Thinking back on this now, it’s funny to me how back then I had no idea how involved I would eventually be in this whole thing.

Even though I was interested in the field, I ended up choosing Biology for my major.  I felt like that was what I was “supposed” to do.  At the time I told myself it felt right.  It was a major I could get a job in someday, or so I kept telling myself.  It’s not that I didn’t like biology.  I loved the courses and the professor I worked for all 4 years I was there.  It’s just that I wasn’t sure what the heck I was going to do with it when I was done.

I ended up in graduate school at Albany Medical College.  My heart just wasn’t in it, and I wasn’t very successful there.  After a semester I left, and I ended up back as an intern for the DEC with a guy I worked for during most of my summers in college.  While I worked for him, he mentored me and helped me look for a real job by giving me advice and helping me with my resume.  After 8 months of working with him I finally found a new job as an…

EXTRACTION TECHNICIAN

Yes, you read that right.  I found the job posting online, and it had absolutely no information about the job in it.  I applied for it, had an interview… and still had no idea what the job entailed.  I knew it was at a laboratory, and that I would basically be doing the job function of a laboratory technician.  I was scared to try it out, but I went for it anyways.

What I ended up with was a job working for a production type laboratory specializing in PCB analysis.  That is the chemical that GE dumped into the Hudson River and the chemical the company was charged with cleaning up from the river.  In the few years since I had taken that college course, GE had completely changed their mind on the stance they were going to take about the river.  They decided to “go green!” and take responsibility for what they had done to the river.  I guess the hope was to change public opinion about the company.  Whatever the reason, it was why I had a job.

The rest I guess is history…

Now, almost 6 years later, I am very much still involved in the project.  I currently supervise the lab that I started working in all those years ago.  But now I am at a crossroads.  I love my job and what I do.  Even so, this field is stressful, frustrating, and can take over your life.  Is it really for me?  I’m not sure what the answer to that question is.  I guess that’s just something I’ll have to figure out on my own.  For now all I’ve got are the memories of how I got to where I am now.  It’s amazing how things turn out.

Tell me about your career.  How did you get to where you are now?  I’d love to hear from you!

The Hudson River by Albany, NY.  Photo taken in 2009, just two weeks before the dredging project officially began.

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