PNAS: Richard Lobinske, Hazardous Waste Manager

(This post is part of the new round of interviews of non-academic scientists, giving the responses of Richard Lobinske, a Hazardous Waste Manager (meaning he handles chemicals, such as these decades-old pesticides, not particularly noxious low-level employees). The goal is to provide some additional information for science students thinking about their fiuture careers, describing options beyond the assumed default Ph.D.--post-doc--academic-job track.)

1) What is your non-academic job?

Hazardous Waste Manager. I oversee a county household hazardous waste collection program that also handles Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators. I have been in this position for three years.

2) What is your science background?

B.S. and M.S in Biology from the University of Central Florida and a Ph.D. in Entomology from the University of Florida.

3) What led you to this job?

After twenty years with the University of Florida as a Career Service Biologist and Senior Biologist, I was hired by Leon County as the Mosquito Control Superintendent. During a reorganization of Public Works, I was transfered to this position because of my prior academic experience in handling laboratory hazardous waste.

4) What's your work environment like?

Mixture of office and outdoor activity on on working floor.

5) What do you do in a typical day?

There is a lot of variety. In the office, I handle all of the record-keeping for the center and handle telephone or e-mail inquiries from the public. On the working floor, I oversee the sorting, processing and safe packaging of hazardous materials for disposal. I personally handle lab packing of pesticides and laboratory-type chemicals. Eleven Saturdays per year, I supervise remote hazardous waste collection events. As needed, I do public presentations on my program and the entire Solid Waste Management Division.

6) How does your science background help you in your job?

My chemistry training has been very useful in handling and identifying materials. Experience in research data handling and statistics has given me the skills to organize the data handling for the center and to produce accurate, up to date reports on processed materials. My science background has also helped with problem-solving on the job and developing more efficient ways to do things. Because of my prior work in mosquito control, I still have a Public Health Pesticide Applicator license. That practical training and my entomology background has been valuable in safely handling and processing pesticides brought in to the center.

7) If a current college student wanted to get a job like yours, how
should they go about it?

There is a running joke among hazardous waste professionals that nobody plans on going into the profession. I would suggest a good chemistry and toxicology background and to keep yourself in good physical shape.

8) What's the most important thing you learned from science?

How to step back from a question to examine as many aspects as possible to arrive at an answer and to be aware of how unconscious biases can influence my thinking.

9) What advice would you give to young science students trying to plan
their careers?

Be flexible and adaptable so that you can take advantage of openings and opportunities as they occur.

10) (Totally Optional Question) What's the pay like?

I'm making roughly the same salary as an assistant professor in the state university system with the same time in position.

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