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Career Profiles

Cinda Crabbe MacKinnon

Hydrogeologist

Cinda was studying education and biology when she met some geologists from Kennecott Copper. She was able to go out in the field with them and learned a little about mining geology. The geologists seemed to be happy people who loved their work and that influenced her decision to major in geology. After graduating from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1976 with a B.S. degree in geology and a minor in environmental biology, Cinda worked as a technical assistant with a Regional Water Board in New Zealand. Geoscience jobs were hard to find there and hence fate began her career in hydrogeology; it was the only job available. She was promoted after a year and began to enjoy her position as a scientist. When Cinda returned to the United States in 1980 she found she could not replace the professional job she had left without a M.S. degree so she went to graduate school. She then worked for several years for environmental consulting firms as a hydrogeologist.

In 1987 Cinda decided to try it on her own and formed her own company, MacKinnon Environmental Consulting, in Walnut Creek, California. As an independent consultant, she evaluates property for soil and groundwater contamination and assesses the regional and local hydrogeology. She also installs water wells. Field work occupies a small percentage of her time and consists of supervising drillers, logging drill holes, installing monitoring wells, sampling soil and ground water and measuring water levels. Office work consists of researching information, evaluating field data, preparing reports, constructing cross-sections and performing calculations. In her work, Cinda evaluates the porosity and permeability of formations, determines groundwater flow directions, and maps the extent of contamination.

Cinda is married to a geologist and has found it helpful to share ideas and have a sounding board for geologic problems that arise during her work. Balancing a career and family life is tough, comments Cinda, on your kids as well as yourself, but if you have help and support you can do it. She had children while in college but does not recommend it to single parents.

She offers this advice to potential earth scientists. "Don't just memorize to pass your exams, relate the information to problem solving. Science builds on itself, and you are going to need to apply what you are learning not only in subsequent classes but in your future work. A good geoscientist needs to be able to write well in order to explain his/her findings and conclusions; this is a skill you should be consciously honing. A business course is useful no matter what field you choose." Cinda also suggests you join professional organizations and network with geoscientists. Her first client was referred to her by someone she met at an Association for Women Geoscientists meeting!

"Geology is a challenge. It's like finding clues to a mystery and working out the answer. It was the right choice for me; I hope you too find a career that gives you satisfaction."