Each month, Patch will ask an Elmhurst resident to answer questions about his or her profession. Their answers will provide students and job seekers with a realistic picture of the demands—and rewards—of the job.
Name: Heidi Hartmann
Occupation: environmental scientist
Employer: Argonne National Laboratory (near Darien)
How would you describe your job? As an environmental researcher specializing in toxicology, my job is a mix of gathering and analyzing information, and communicating that information. Both are equally important, but communicating the information is both more difficult and more fun.
What is a typical day like for you? I usually am in my office most of the day. About half to three-quarters of the day is spent reading documents about waste sites or about processes that are the focus of a project to find out what kinds of chemicals are there, researching how the chemicals move through the environment and how they affect human health. When I am managing a project, more of my day is spent in meetings with the project team or consulting on the phone with the project sponsors (the group we are working for).
How many hours a week do you work? When I'm busy and a project deadline is coming up, about 45 to 60. When it's calmer, about 40.
Do you work evenings and weekends? Yes, but I also have a flexible schedule so that I often get into the office late or leave early.
How much of your day is spent alone? About three-quarters.
How much of your day is spent working with others? I work with other people about two hours a day. In my field, many different types of expertise is needed to thoroughly research a problem: ecologists, hydrologists, geologists, air quality specialists, anthropologists, economists. There is a lot of consulting that needs to happen to keep a project consistent and high quality.
What do you love most about your job? I love getting to know about the environment, traveling all around the U.S., and getting to work with the people in my office and all over the country. I also love the feeling that our work improves the environment.
Is there anything particularly stressful you would change if you could? I would like to be able to control our deadlines.
How did you choose this career? I was interested in protecting the environment even when I was in grade school. It was the early '70s and the environmental protection movement was just getting started, so there was a lot of discussion in school and in the news. In college, I was good in science and I started to find out that there were graduate programs in the environmental sciences. I just decided to apply.
Did you find it hard to find a job when you started in this industry? Once you are in graduate school it's pretty easy to make connections to find a job. Professors know people in the industry in the area that they can recommend you to. There are professional organizations to help. I found my job easily, but I think it might be a little harder these days.
What natural abilities do you have that help you perform well at your job? In my job I'm very detail oriented, and I try to make sure our work is very accurate. In order to keep a good reputation, your product must be high quality. This keeps the customers coming back.
Have you had many gaps in employment? I have been very lucky. I've never been unemployed since I completed graduate school. I've worked three different places: one for one year, one for two years, then I went to my current job, where I've been for 20 years.
Would you say the cost of your education and training has paid off? Absolutely.
What long term accomplishments in your job are you most proud of? I'm proud of being able to successfully manage and complete a big project that has important environmental consequences and identify the most important problems so that they are addressed.
If you could choose your career path again, would you choose this profession? Absolutely.
What is your best advice for someone just getting out of school and starting a career in your field? It's good to have a lot of energy when you first start and really work hard. Then, when you've been working for a while and you feel more confident about what you can deliver, make sure you take care of yourself (for example, run or exercise at lunch).
How have you been innovative in your career? I don't know that I've been very innovative, although the work does require figuring out ways to at least partially answer questions even when there isn't much data.
How would you describe your work-life balance? It's mainly been very good. My hours were very flexible when my kids were younger. Sometimes work can sort of "take over" for periods of six months or so, when we are working on a big project.
How satisfied are you with your chosen career? Overall I'm very satisfied. I get to use my brain, I'm always learning new things and I have the chance to get to know interesting people.