Career Profile: Leila Gonzales
Geoscience Workforce Analyst, American Geological Institute
Briefly describe your educational background and career path.
I hold a bachelor's degree in Mathematics and Spanish, a certificate of advanced study in GIS, a Master's degree in Geophysical Sciences, and a Ph.D. in Geography.
After graduating with my bachelor's degree, I worked at Lockheed Martin as a systems engineer. Later I moved on to work at Veridian Information Solutions as a software development team leader. From there, I moved to Hawai'i to work at the Pacific Disaster Center as a GIS analyst before heading back to school for graduate studies. During a conference I attended while in graduate school, I spoke with a researcher from the American Samoa Community College. From our discussions, we developed a set of research projects that I was able to do as a summer intern at the American Samoa Community College. It was a great opportunity because I gained experience working at a land-grant community college in the South Pacific, and I was able to develop projects that could be developed into post-doctoral work. I also was able to mentor community college students and involve them in my summer research projects. An added benefit was the ability to spend my summers in the South Pacific and learn as much as I could about the Samoan culture. As I was nearing the completion of my doctoral studies, I attended another conference and networked with company representatives in the exhibit hall to see what job opportunities they had to offer. As a result, I found my current position at the American Geological Institute.
Briefly describe your current job responsibilities, perhaps by describing a typical day, week, or month.
I collect and analyze a plethora of data from public and restricted sources for information pertaining to all aspects of the geosciences: from education, to careers, to economic factors. I've been fortunate to work both domestically and internationally with representatives from academia, government, and private industry to understand the different facets of the geoscience profession. I write data briefs, reports, journal articles, and present this research at national and international conferences and to different organizations within the geoscience community. I also organize and moderate many of AGI's GeoWebinars, and on occasion present my research at some of these webinars.
Since 2008, I've been involved in the development of an international network of early-career geoscientists (www.networkyes.org) whose membership currently stands at ~900 members from 94 countries. As part of the original executive team, I assisted in the organization of the network's first international conference, which was held at China University of Geosciences-Beijing in 2009. I was primarily responsible for all communications-related activities including developing the conference website, creating advertising materials, writing press releases and publicizing information about the conference to the wider geoscience community. I also planned and organized three of the seven roundtable symposia for the conference, coordinated the logistics and training for virtual and non-virtual speakers and roundtable moderators, moderated the virtual participation for several of these roundtable symposia. I also converted the recorded webinars into web-viewable videos, and posted the videos online.
Since the conference, I've assisted in developing the structure for the current leadership team. I also developed the network's website, deployed a portfolio of web-resources in order to assist members in connecting with each other to collaborate on projects, discuss geoscience topics of interest, and keep up-to-date on upcoming meetings, funding deadlines, and student and career opportunities across the world. I'm currently leading a project that harnesses the knowledge and geographic distribution of the network's membership for the purpose of contributing to a global geoscience compendium of geoscience universities, professional societies, and employers.
What do you like best about your work?
I like the varied nature of the work I do, and the ability to work with professionals from many different business sectors. I also enjoy working domestically and internationally on projects related to geoscience human resource issues.
In what ways did your education or other prior experience prepare you for your job?
My previous jobs in the software industry gave me experience in designing and leading projects, creating training materials, and training users on new software applications. I use all of this experience in my current position, from working with the various teams on the different projects in which I'm involved, to writing training manuals for webinar moderators, to training people on how to use different web-technologies (i.e. webinars, website maintenance, etc.).
My graduate research gave me experience with analyzing large amounts of disparate data to reveal the overarching trends. I deal with similar issues in my current position with all of the data collection and research I conduct. I also started developing websites when I was in graduate school, and I've been able to build on these skills in my current position.
What advice do you have for graduate students or post-docs preparing for careers in geoscience? What do you know now that you wish you had known as you started your career?
It's important to think about where you want to be in 5 to 10 years time. Find out what careers will provide you with the ability to reach those goals, and what training and skills you'll need. Then, align your education with your career goals and make sure you obtain the training you need to give you the skills for the career you want.
A great resource is the Texas Workforce Commission's Reality Check website. The website walks you through all the things you need to consider about life after graduation. Although it's designed for living in Texas, you can adjust the required income levels by comparing the cost-of-living for other locations to the city you chose in Texas.
While you're in school, use your summers for interning at different companies, government agencies, or community colleges. Networking is very important and I'd recommend doing it as much as you can. Conferences are great places to network. Remember to also talk with the company representatives in the exhibit halls, as you may find jobs that may fit you very well through contacts at these companies. Also, network with speakers that come to your department's colloquium as this is a great way to find future research collaborators, mentors, and even jobs.