On the Job Susan Shaw

What is your job title?
I'm an assistant supportive scientist with the Illinois State Water Survey
Hydrology Division. I work for the Office of Sediment and Wetland Studies.

What do you do in that position?
Mainly, my job is with the Lake Decatur project, taking water samples and
measuring water flow at eight stations, and maintaining stream gauges at
six locations, all between Fisher and Decatur. A big chunk of my job is
field work, but I also take the lab analysis of the water samples and put
the information into the database.

What is your average work week like?
Every week, year-round, [I and my assistant] have to go to the eight
stations and take the samples and measurements. We probably drive about 200
miles a week to go to all the stations. When it rains, we have to go out
more often because we have to take flow measurements from those times. I
spend about half my time in the office putting the lab analysis of the
samples and other information into the database. There's a lot of
information gathered from the eight stations. I do a lot of plotting [on
graphs] of the water-stage data, but the water-quality measurements go to
an EPA-certified [Environmental Protection Agency] lab for testing.

What happens to all this data you are collecting and entering into a computer?
Eventually it gets put into a report. Cities in the area are interested in
this report because it's the only long-term study of nitrate levels done in
the area. The study has been going on for three years now. The city of
Decatur is funding the project.

What kind of background do you have that prepares you for this job?
I have a master's degree in environmental biology and training in limnology
[the study of the physical, chemical and biological properties of water]
and fisheries management. Those are my big areas of interest. I had done a
small-streams study for the city of Mattoon with a consultant. Mattoon had
improved its water treatment plant and the city wanted to see if it
affected water quality in the area. It did.

What else is involved in the field work besides collecting water samples
and reading gauges?
You take in a lot of information about what is happening in the area of the
streams when you gather the samples and measurements. You make observations
about what's going on throughout the year in the watershed, so you have to
have a basic knowledge of water chemistry. I also do some on-site testing
for nitrates with a small test kit, which helps us plan where we have to go

What is the toughest part of your job?
It's probably the field work, in the rain. I have a 30-pound weight
[equipment] on my back and I'm trying to take readings and there's a
clipboard tied on at my hip and it's miserable. But it's satisfying when I
see the results and see we really needed that measurement that day in that

What is the best part of your job?
I get to enjoy the outdoors. Even in the winter, I really enjoy being out
in the stream. I get my hip boots on and go wading out there. It's just

UIUC -- Inside Illinois -- 1996/04-18-96