Joe McCarthy

Intern, Washington State Governor's Office of Executive Policy

Carol Ormand interviewed Joe McCarthy on March 12, 2007. Joe is an intern in the Governor's Office for the state of Washington, and provides his perspective on using a geoscience degree to inform policy decisions at the state government level. This interview is one in a collection of interviews of geoscience employers and employees. We hope that these interviews will help guide geoscience departments in preparing students for their future careers. For additional perspectives, please see the other interviews in the collection.

Jump Down To: Employment Context | Desirable Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities | Advice to Job Applicants

Employment Context

Joe McCarthy graduated from Whittier College with a Bachelor's degree in geology, earned a Master's degree in hydrogeology from the Colorado School of Mines, and is now a full-time law student. He currently works for Governor Gregoire's environmental policy director, in the Office of Executive Policy in Seattle, Washington. His job responsibilities consist of communicating with the state Department of Ecology and the Compliance Office about environmental policies and communicating policy recommendations to the Governor's office. He is often called upon to act as a liaison between scientists and policy makers, since he has a thorough understanding of both fields.

Desirable Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

Geoscience knowledge

Because of his background in hydrogeology, most of the issues Joe is consulted about are water resource issues. The geoscience knowledge he uses most heavily is his understanding of watersheds and groundwater. However, what made Joe most attractive to his current employer is the combination of his geoscience background with his ongoing legal training. For example, Joe writes, "My primary task has been a project related to the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prarie aquifer, which Washington shares with Idaho; the aquifer is vital to both states. I originally constructed a regional integrated surface water/groundwater model of the aquifer when I was a consultant. Now as an intern for the Governor, I work in conjunction with the Washington Attorney General's Office and the Washington Department of Ecology to explore cooperative and legal management solutions. These types of interstate issues have traditionally been resolved through interstate compact or through adjudication before the U.S. Supreme Court."

Other skills and abilities

Oral and written communication skills are invaluable to Joe in his current position. A large part of his job consists of communicating with various groups of people. This includes learning about environmental issues from the Department of Ecology, making policy recommendations to the Governor's environmental policy advisor, and explaining why a proposed policy will or won't comply with legal requirements. Joe emphasizes that he has to be able to communicate with a wide variety of audiences, and in particular with people who vary a great deal in the sophistication of their understanding of science. The other non-geoscience skill Joe learned in school that he finds invaluable is project management. Figuring out how long it will take to do a task, breaking it into subtasks, and staying on schedule for accomplishing the overall goal are all essential to his job. Joe credits his undergraduate advisor, Dallas Rhodes, for emphasizing the importance of writing and for supervising his senior thesis project, helping him to develop these skills.

Advice to Job Applicants

Joe advises geoscience students going on the job market to recognize and make the most of the skills they've learned, beyond their geoscience knowledge. For example, he says, being able to gather data, analyze it, and present a recommendation based on your analysis is useful in business as well as in science. Especially if you're interested in a career outside of the traditional geoscience fields, emphasize these skills on your resume. And for anyone considering a career in environmental law, check out this GSA abstract, by Joe McCarthy, Scott McAdam, and Dallas Rhodes: Preparing For "Uncivil" Actions: Geology, Law School, and the Practice of Environmental Law.