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Job Profiles – Interviewing a Wastewater Operator

For today’s blog post, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Kristen, one of the employees here at Practical Applications, to ask her a little bit more about her job as an Urban Environmental Scientist with a wastewater operator license.

R – How did you get started working in the wastewater industry?

K- My first job was working as an environmental scientist (soils, groundwater sampling, etc.) and then I transitioned into an urban environmental scientist.

It was a big change – before, I was based in Hudson – and job sights would be a week at a time. Now, my job involves more going into the city and treating the water there. My designated spots for Practical Applications is Boston and the surrounding area. Sampling wastewater is a very different process (24 hours turn around time) and (is much better) then the weekly sampling I used to do.

R- Where did you receive your training for the job?

K- I got my wastewater license background at PAI by taking the wastewater operator training. Prior to working here, I also received my OSHA Hazwoper safety license. I normally take an 8-hour refresher course every year. It’s not required but it would be good background if you don’t know anything about safety stuff – basics and extra info to help with the job – it’s a lot more in-depth than you’d expect and it does help with on-the-job safety.

R- What does an average day on the job look like?

K- Basically, I start at the office and find out where I’m going for the day and then travel to the site. Once I’m there, I set up and sample about 2-4 places about every other day. Then, I go back the next day to actually take the sample.

R- What is something that you really like about working in wastewater?

K- It sounds silly but I really like the amount of stuff that you learn every day. Even though you might be at the same place every day – you learn a ton of new stuff each month and get to interact with people all day long.

R- What is something that you dislike about working in wastewater?

K – Sometimes it can be really smelly!  *laughs* I know that it’s lab waste but it can really smell sometimes.

R- What are some challenges you face on the job?

K- I’d say parking. Learning to park on-site – different parking situations are always a challenge – especially when street sweeping. Sometimes, flow (grab samples) is also challenging. Waiting quite some time to actually take grab samples can be a little annoying (especially if you are going to 5 different places) and with that comes budgeting time.

R- What is the most exciting thing about being a wastewater operator?

That’s a good question – I guess the most exciting thing is that every day is an adventure. Its always something different – always switching up – some days in the lab, other days out in the field.

R- What is a common misconception about your job?

K- That sampling is easy. There is always a trick to something – a specific way to take samples so that you don’t get air bubbles. You learn a lot on the job -the tips and tricks come from experience.

R- What was taking the exam like?

K- The exam was hard. I’d say that if you don’t pass – don’t give up on it – the questions do change.

R- Tell us a crazy story about something that happened out in the field.

K- *Laughs* A lot of crazy stuff happens. Something that happens a lot (and it’s kind of gross) is sampling at the seafood places. The [fish] scales get stuck in the strainer and you have to pull them out. [R- How do you do that?] You put on gloves and just pull it off the strainer and just clean it that way.

R- Any advice that you would give to somebody looking to work in the field?

K- I would say to give it a chance and don’t give up on it. It can be overwhelming – you learn by doing and you’ll never learn anything all at once at any job. Eventually, you’ll learn your own tricks that work for you.

Thank you so much Kristen for a wonderful interview!

If you any questions about how to become a wastewater operator, make sure to read our guide here