The Motley View: On Seeking Dirty Work and the Value of Shoveling S–T*

*A dirty mind would read this as SILT  

 I started work in 1959, delivering groceries by bike in West London. By the time I left my teens, I had worked part-time as a sales clerk in grocery, food and book shops, and also had stints as a bookkeeper, a laundry man, a TV Special Effects technician. I later washed dishes on a cargo ship to travel to Canada and by age 25 had spent a few years as a prospector. None of these jobs would likely be considered “professional” by the standard of today’s graduate geoengineer. All of them required me to perform much dirty work; hard, often physically demanding work that sometimes felt demeaning, was often boring, and which too often left me tired, hot (or very cold), wet, and bruised.   

McIntyre-Porcupine INEL camp, Upper Bronsen Ck Glacier, 1973 (E Medley)


Medley painting Patriotic biffy, INEL prospect 1973 ( E Medley)


 For example: in 1973 I built an outhouse perched above a glacier in the magnificent Stikine Range of British Columbia, a few miles from the Alaska border (requiring a bold Maple Leaf be painted on the roof to deter the occasional flying American intruder). Since the ground was permanently frozen, a cess pit was impossible so I incorporated an empty 45 gallon fuel drum into the edifice. It was a splendid toilet. As I purposefully did not build a door, patrons had a glorious vista of Mt. Kallahan and its glaciers, a view sometimes obscured by mid-summer snow storms.  

 The next summer, resuming work at the prospect, the crew needed a toilet. Rather than rebuild one, I decided to re-use the old one. Which required me to shovel s–t*  from the drum. (* well of course the word is shit, but silt fits OK, too…) Was shoveling dirty work? Yes. Was it tiring? Yes: one could say I was pooped after finishing the chore. Did it need to be done? At the time, I judged Yes. Was it rewarding? Yes: judge for your self from the picture above if the view was indeed worth the effort.  

 And so to the Motley View on dirty work and some suggestions for those of you early in your careers:  

 Define your “dirty work”: Dirty work is often the work other people do not want to do, work that they do not care for because it is “beneath them”, or it is “boring”, or it is not what they “went to Berkeley to do”, or it is the “same old silt”; or, it is not “professional”. Dirty work may literally be dirty: observing drilling and logging soil samples and rock core; performing laboratory tests; performing construction monitoring and field density tests; and mapping landslides. Or it may be boring, repetitious, dull or difficult office work: performing computer analyses; writing field memos; and reading depositions. All these chores seem nothing like the kind of geoengineering work you went to Berkeley to study for, and may not be the glamorous work you thought you were signing up for with your glamorous employer. But believe it or not; this is the sort of work your supervisors did and if you want to be a successful geoengineer, it is the sort of work you will have to do too.  

 If dirty work need to be done: then you do it!:   In fact, in your careers you should seek dirty work. Dirty work is essential and somebody has to do it. Why not you? Take the less traveled dirt road, if you will. If nobody else in your peer group likes doing the work, your employer will appreciate you doing it. You will not be doing it for ever, because after a while you will have shown that you can do “what it takes”.     

 Don’t whinge when you are shoveling:  Australians have a crunchy slang word for incessant complaining: “whingeing” (almost always used to denigrate Brits such as I, such as in “You are a whingeing Pommie bastard”) . Nobody likes a complainer and you shall endear yourself to your supervisor by not complaining about the dirty work he asks you to do. Just get on with it. If the work is hateful, and you really cannot see the point, then find another job. But you will quickly learn that you will do dirty work there too; different dirty work, but still dirty work.    

 Enjoy the rewards of shoveling:  There are rewards to performing dirty work- it is through performing dirty work that we learn about ourselves and our limits, we gain entrees to adventures, and most rewarding of all, we learn some humility. Indeed, in the words of another generation: dirty work “builds character”. (Of course, much of the dirty work that generation was talking about was war). But I assure you that the more dirty work you are able to cram into your career, the more experienced a geoengineer and the more mature an individual you shall become. 

 This post is an adaptation of a Motley View  article,  first published in the October 2007 Newsletter (No. 4) of the Berkeley Geoengineering Alumni Association.

About Ed Medley

Ed Medley has been on a random walk for over 50 years. Many scribbles and snapshots at this site are from his vagabond transits; others are from his decades of international experience in geological and geotechnical engineering, academia, and mineral exploration prospecting.
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2 Responses to The Motley View: On Seeking Dirty Work and the Value of Shoveling S–T*

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