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Tim O’Hare
Featured Profile: 
At A Glance
Licensed Body: 
Scientist Type: 
Service provider/Operational
South East
First Degree: 
BSc Geography
Principal Soil Consultant
Works For: 
Tim O’Hare Associates
BSc Geography, Masters in Pedology, Soil Survey and Land Evaluation at Redding University
Pet Hates: 
Punctuation, formatting, presentation, attention to detail
Burning Ambition: 
To build up a successful business with a good reputation and good employment prospects for the staff. Surf some more places.
I wish I could fly! I’d get across all traffic.
Big Picture
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist? 
I think it was always in me. I grew up in the Far East (Indonesia). There was always a patch of soil where I grew everything. At school I loved agriculture. It was always there inside me – I was no good at anything else
What do you love about your job and being a “scientist”? 
You learn at least one thing on every job you do. That’s what makes the job interesting. There’s no routine. Every job has its challenges
What would you change? 
Nothing. I even enjoy the peaks and troughs. The only thing I would say, because it’s not a well-know job and profession, there’s a real uphill struggle to justify your existence to clients and other professions. Why do we need a soil scientist? You’re educating people about the viability of your work. It can be difficult when people don’t buy into it
What qualifications did you take at school? 
I did A-levels Geography, Geology and Biology
Why did you choose your first degree subject? 
I did a Geography degree at London Metropolitan University where I found a real interest in soils
Do you have a Masters or PhD? If not, was it difficult to demonstrate Masters-level equivalence in order to achieve CSci? 
I did a Masters degree in Pedology, Soil Survey and Land Evaluation at Redding, which was a one year intensive course. I enjoyed that more than my three years of geography – it was fantastic!
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? 
Broadly I’m a consultant, which encompasses lots of different things – environmental consultant, landscape consultant etc. As a professional I class myself as a soil scientist. I’m sometimes tempted to say I’m an accountant to stop the conversation! One example of my work is I was a soil consultant for the Terminal 5 project. That’s something people can visualize. They know it’s a big project. It involved re-engineering the land in a 380 hectare site. I was responsible for all the soil issues to do with the landscaping, including growing plants
What is ‘cutting-edge’ about your work? 
There are two big buzz words – sustainability and recycling. What we’ve done with our knowledge of soils has created a whole new sector. Soils are not just stripped and placed elsewhere. We recycle unwanted soil materials. For example, soil from the Terminal 5 project was used as river dredging soil. When you’re able to reuse waste soil, it ticks the sustainability box and gives you a commercial advantage, saving you money. When soil is re-used it means you’re not using previous landfill space
Describe briefly how your career has progressed to date. 
After my Masters I got a job with a small independent consultancy in West London. I spent six months in a lab analyzing soil, which was necessary to understand the job and the limitations of chemistry in the commercial world. Then I became a soil scientist doing survey work and interpretive report writing, which I did for four years. I went on to help set-up another firm doing the same thing, where I spend another four years before I struck out on my own. I now employ four consultants. My soil science is focused on construction and landscape: major road works, business parks, retail parks, sports and pitch design, schools etc
How is your job cross-disciplinary? 
We have to speak more than one technical language. For example, we have an interface with both civil engineers and geo-technical engineers. Engineers are very matter-of-fact. It’s a very old industry with certain ways of doing things. We also deal with architects and landscape architects who are design oriented. And then there are the hydrologists and ecologists who deal with contaminated land issues. The phrases, terms, expressions are all different across these groups. You have to know your own subject very well as well as other people’s subjects
How do you see your field developing over the next 5-10 years? 
I think my role in the business may change. As employees and senior consultants evolve, you mentor more. One of our aims is to stabilize the size of the business and possibly bring on a couple more consultants. Climate change will also have a major impact on my field. Floods, biodiversity, ecological diversity, carbon sequestering...etc
What’s the most unexpected thing about your job? 
The variability and variety of the work that I do. One day we may be looking at soil issues to do with a green roof in a city high rise and the next day we may be looking at soil issues at a landfill in Northumberland. There are many technical, commercial and time variables on any given project. We work on a diverse range of topics and locations. It’s a great element to the work and keeps it interesting. My worst fear is to pigeon-holed into doing just one thing.
What’s the biggest achievement of your career so far? 
It’s setting up my own business, maintaining it, and maintaining the continuity and quality with our clients who thankfully speak very highly of us. I never have problems getting trade references from people. We’ve worked for some people and companies for 16 years who we have a lovely rapport with
Would you say you have a good standard of living/ work-life balance? 
It’s getting better. In the early years running your own business you put a lot more hours in. Having a family you have to somehow adjust and get a balance
What do your friends and family think about your job? 
They are generally interested. Once you explain what you do a lot of them say they wish they did something like that. When people hear the word scientist they tend to picture you in a white coat
What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax? 
Family takes up a lot of my time. I have two boys who are eight and seven years old. I like sport. I run a lot, do triathlons, surfing, and rugby when my wife lets me
Why did you choose to apply for CSci and what do you value most about being a Chartered Scientist? 
I applied to be a Chartered Scientist through the Institute of Professional Soil Scientists. I realized that much of my work was relevant to CSci and membership was an important goal for career development. It demonstrates scientific expertise, a recognized level of achievement and a commitment to ongoing professional development. I mainly act in a consultancy capacity, and work alongside other professionals (engineers, ecologists, hydrologists, architects and environmental consultants) where chartered status is important to many colleagues and clients. Where a multi-disciplinary team is required for a project, the CSci status helps to demonstrate my expertise at a level equal with other professionals and unifies the group regardless of their specialist subject
How important is CPD? What do you think of the revalidation process in ensuring that CSci is a mark of current competence? 
I think it’s extremely important. It can be packaged in lots of different ways. A lot of time it’s done very informally – day to day you’re learning stuff, researching, talking to colleagues… all the way through to the more recognized conferences and seminars. It’s not a once a month scenario, it’s every other day. You’re developing all the time. It could be widened to focus not just on the technical aspects of a skill, but also the commercial aspects. I think as a consultant you’re very well-rounded – you have to have both technical and commercial knowledge, including knowledge of how to run a business and manage staff
Advice & Reflection
What words of wisdom would you give someone interested in getting into your field? 
I’d probably give the advice my Dad gave me when I was going for my first job. “Just take the job. Don’t worry about the money at this stage, get the experience.” The first foothold for getting into industry is to get some experience. In my field the income stream wasn’t very good to start with…but the general consensus is you don’t make masses of money but there are other rewards and eventually the money gets better and you have a better standard of living. Helen Stanley, one of the employees at my previous firm, started off prepared to work for free. We got to know her and even though there wasn’t a role for her we created one. She badgered the MD, kept at it, got the door open, and by the time six weeks was over she’d proved her position and her worth
How important is the mentoring process in your field and to you personally? 
I think mentoring is central. When you start working you sometimes think you know a lot when in reality you don’t. You soon realize that. You know enough to know you don’t know a lot. When I first started my boss was very influential to me. We had different academic backgrounds and he was very good at rounding me out as a consultant. I’ve been lucky enough to pass that on to other consultants
How would you define “professionalism”? 
Integrity stands out in that respect. I’m acknowledged in my field as being independent, and maintaining that independence is very important. Often we work for the same companies over and over again. With commercial situations there’s usually a winner and loser when decisions have to be made. It doesn’t matter who the individuals or companies are… you have to remain independent/neutral. They end up acknowledging you for it. You have to be consistent. Some clients are even afraid of us because they know we scrutinize things and we have our own opinion which may not be what they want. 99% of the parties go away and accept what you’ve said. But you have to do the job properly and be consistent
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