NAME: Allyson Anderson Book
CURRENT TITLE: Executive Director, American Geosciences Institute (AGI)
AREA OF EXPERTISE: Energy/natural resource policy, petroleum geology, surficial processes/geomorphology
YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: 15+
EDUCATION: Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, Master of Science in Geology; University of Northern Iowa, Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts in Geology and Music; post-graduate work at the University of Kansas.
What’s your job like?
I have a career in the geosciences, leading a nonprofit Earth science federation known as the American Geosciences Institute. I am fortunate to collaborate with dynamic geoscientists every day, both here at the Institute and beyond our walls into the broader geoscience community.
What’s a typical day like?
There is truly not a typical day in my life at the Institute. Some days, I will be sitting at a desk writing reports or blogs, reviewing expenses, approving timesheets… basic administrative tasks. Other days I will be out on the road seeing our members and stakeholders, visiting schools, or attending conferences. I speak at conferences regularly and serve on several advisory boards, offering a geoscientist’s perspective.
Currently, I am overseeing the total renovation of our headquarters here in Alexandria, Virginia. Like pretty much anything else in my life, I’m approaching this reno as a geoscientist. Just the other day, I was picking out the building materials for our counters to ensure a durable surface that also highlights some amazing geology. I met with counter suppliers and even discussed teaching a geology 101 class to their salespeople, to make sure that they are knowledgeable about the rocks they are selling. Too often consumers purchase a “granite” countertop without realizing that it is actually marble – and they are disappointed when the surface gets scratched up after installation.
Day to day, I am always focusing on the Institute’s motto: Connecting Earth, science, and people.
Connecting Earth, science, and people! There are so many ways to accomplish this, whether through formal interactions in a classroom setting, or through our informal educational programs, or even through a water cooler conversation with colleagues. I really enjoy seeing people understand the connection between geoscience and, well, pretty much everything.
The business of running a nonprofit is challenging. In addition to staying current in my field of practice/training (petroleum geology), I have to know how emerging policies will impact our organization, as well as the fifty-two members of our federation. Financial sustainability is always a big challenge for a nonprofit, so I spend a lot of my day thinking about new ways to expand existing products and services, as well as diversifying our sources of income. I never imagined that I would be doing this back when I was in school studying to become a geologist. But a career is never a straight line and my time in the private sector and working for the federal government did provide me a lot of hands-on training in these areas.
What’s your advice to students?
Three things, folks:
Volunteer! This can be as simple as saying yes when someone asks for help in your lab or office. Or, it can be external volunteer work for a professional society or even a charity. The connections you make in these moments may open up doors for the next stage of your career. Also, you might find that you love your volunteer work so much that you want to pursue it professionally. Conversely, you might realize you don’t love it and then you can cross it off your list of career options. Either way, you become more knowledgeable and connected. Both are good things!
Pay attention to details. The details really matter – in science, policy, and in human interactions. Too often we overlook the details in our haste to meet deadlines. This can lead to erroneous results in a research setting or to a miscommunication in a workplace setting. If you’ve got an eye for details, your future employer or current supervisor is more likely to trust you with those primo assignments. They may look to you for advice and for your thoughts because you can see the forest AND the trees! When you pay attention to detail, it signals to your peers, supervisor, and/or advisor that you care about what you do and take pride in it.
Practice humility. There is no job too big or too small for ANY person. You can get ahead in life by taking every opportunity – and not thinking that a task is beneath you.