- MARYAM AZAD
As we approach the end of the first quarter of 2021, it’s a good time to evaluate: how are you doing on your professional growth goals? Despite the pandemic, you may have set out to grow your professional network or your industry knowledge this year—but how are you supposed to do that when so many in-person events are on hold?
Registering for large industry events and conferences and renewing your membership with organizations like the American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG) is still smart, but don’t overlook participation in smaller regional associations. If you’re willing to put in the effort, these local organizations can provide excellent opportunities for career development—and in this blog post, I’ll highlight three.
Although national conferences attract big name presenters, the higher attendance numbers can make it harder to connect with other attendees. It’s often too crowded to seek out a familiar name you’ve been wanting to meet, and it can be intimidating to jump into the animated conversation at the next table. Online versions of these events may be easier to attend, but the platform can make it even harder to meet new people or start conversations.
Local industry groups and events, by contrast, have fewer people involved at every level. It’s easier to join conversations at events (whether you’re in-person or on Zoom), recognize someone who participated at the last meeting, and get involved with different committees or initiatives. For example, I’m involved in (and have served on the board of) the Professional Environmental Management Association (PEMA) (West Chapter), and have participated in the local chapters of the for more than 10 years. My participation in these organizations helped me successfully pivot my career away from scientific research into business development. I had all the laboratory skills and experience I needed, but a very small network. By regularly attending local events and volunteering my time, I built the deep network I needed to succeed in my work.
The people who step up to help quickly become well-known in local chapters and groups, even if they’re relatively new to the industry. The time they invest in the organization pays off in the positive reputation they build and the network they develop. Repeatedly interacting with people in your region means they have the opportunity to become familiar with your expertise, not just the name on your conference badge. When they have work they need to refer out or contract for, they’ll know if you’re a good fit and may send it your way.
Many regional organizations offer educational webinars or seminars, often with a significant discount for their members. Because of the smaller size of the organization, you will have a better chance of asking follow-up questions or meeting presenters afterward. Many of these events are eligible for CEU credit (it is worth asking about!).
If you are at a stage in your career where you would like to share your own knowledge and expertise, these organizations may provide the perfect platform. Some local organizations, such as PEMA, provide an excellent opportunity for sharing your work. You can gain speaking experience, get your name out in the local environmental services community, and build the needed confidence to grown your professional profile and career.
Now more than ever, many of us are recognizing the need for personal connection. Safety protocols this past year meant that many of the events we would normally attend in-person were canceled. That has been disappointing on both a professional and personal level.
In-person events will hopefully be an option again soon, and likely they’ll be phased in—and smaller events are more likely to be able to comply with state and/or federal guidelines pertaining to group size. Regional events also eliminate the need for cross-country travel through busy airports, further reducing unnecessary potential exposure.
Some local organizations may hold outdoor social events like golf tournaments or group bicycling events, where you can spend time with other environmental industry professionals while maintaining a safe social distance outdoors. Having social events on the calendar not only give us something to look forward to, they also help us stay connected to our industry.
Now--more than ever--is the time to find, join and begin participating with your local professional organizations. Even if we can’t be in the office, we can still be setting ourselves up for professional growth, success and connection in 2021.
Connect with me on LinkedIn if you’d like a head start.
Technical Services Manager
Maryam Azad is the Technical Services Manager for Cascade Environmental. In this role, she guides clients through decision matrices to select the appropriate characterization methodology for investigating the subsurface, the right chemistry based on the contaminant of concern (COC), and the drilling technique needed for remediation success.
To provide this highly technical support, Maryam draws on her 25-year career as a scientist and researcher. She authored two patents related to in situ chemical oxidation (ISCO) and bioremediation, and led a research laboratory supporting bench scale treatability studies of remediation compounds like ISCO, in situ chemical reduction (ISCR), metals stabilization, and soil vapor. She has a deep understanding of how chemicals and contaminants interact, and she’s able to translate that into accessible decision-making data. Maryam’s clients rely on her to help them understand their characterization and remediation options and move their sites toward closure.