A lot of people say when you have an idea or plan you should keep it to yourself until it’s ready. I don’t subscribe to that brand of thinking. If I did, I never would have told a complete stranger at a friend’s birthday party about my idea for what is now Geek Girl Boss. And she wouldn’t have told me about her friend on Twitter who is a scientist and Whovian. And I wouldnH’t have seen her dressed as Rey while at work. It looked like a scene straight from The Force Awakens; I knew I needed to interview this woman. For the past five years, Sarah Roberts has been a Hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. She studies groundwater hydrology and water quality in the deserts of Southern California. Part of the job involves studying water transport, and the other pertains to studying the effect of climate change on groundwater resources. Sarah is also going to be featured in the sci-fi documentary, InDOCTORnated, the story of those with a love of Doctor Who and how it set them to their current career paths.
Q: Origin story time – what were you doing before and what led you to this?
A: I moved to San Diego from my hometown of Crest Hill, IL right after I graduated high school. I always knew I would pursue environmental science and found that geography and hydrology were my callings after taking a few college courses. I spent a few years working at a boat rental and in retail while working toward my degree. One of my Geography professors saw my potential and recommended me for a student position with the USGS. I started out doing data entry, and before I knew it, I was out in the desert taking water samples.
Q: What resources and tools helped you grow professionally? (i.e. Self-learning, school, books, mentors) What would you recommend?
A: Having amazing professors with both a passion for the environment and their students is why I have succeeded academically and professionally. I also rely heavily on hands-on experience and spent many days outside with my geography and geology textbooks applying what I learned about in class to the real world.
Q: Did you have a mentor or tribe of people you turned to?
A: My husband and close circle of friends are the most supportive people in the world.
Q: What are some of the hardships and realities of being a woman in your industry?
A: I have been incredibly fortunate to work in an agency that not only values women, but also their education, and dedication to their work. This could be because of federal guidelines and how our pay scales are set up, but I work with truly wonderful men and women who treat each other with equal respect. This is a situation that I do not take for granted.
Q: Can you name a time a mistake has led you to success?
A: The first semester of college I started working full-time which resulted in me failing two of my classes. I ended up retaking them with a professor who pushed me to my academic limits and got me interested in hydrology. A year later he recommended me for my current job.
Q: Name a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night.
A: It only takes the removal of one environmental regulation to undo decades of improvement. I truly fear for the future of environmental research and of this planet under the current presidential administration.
Q: What are some key personality traits needed to do what you do?
A: Patience and persistence. Studies take years to set up, years to gather and test information, and years before you see results. You cannot rush your methods if you expect to produce accurate data.
Q: Name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional experiences.
A: Becoming the environmentalist I wanted to be as a child. Applying that to my education and career despite the way others criticized it as “hippy-like” when I was growing up.
Q: In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
A: I remember there is a planet and an entire human race depending on my work and the work of my agency.
Q: In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before going into this line of work?
A: 1. People go into this line of work because they truly care about the environment. Not for profit or self-gain.
2. It will be an uphill battle. Administrations will try to undo what you spend years trying to predict, solve, and protect. Remember, the earth and its inhabitants are counting on you.
3. You will be heckled and called a liar. You will be faced with people whose views you cannot change. And that is why YOU should care. Push back with passion, push back with science, and push back with the knowledge that you will change this world for the better.
Q: What was the best piece of advice you were given when you were starting out? (Or a piece of advice you’re glad you ignored?)
A: “Watch out for the rattlesnakes!” Nine out of ten times they are right where I need to be.
Just like the environment, the ecosystem of our personal lives is very delicate. Something as simple as getting a job resulted in Sarah failing two classes. But in retaking them, she was put on the course to her current career. How has a disappointment or failure set you on the path to an unexpectant delight or success? How long did it take you to shake off the dejected feeling before you were able to realize you were on a better course for life? Let us know in the comments below.