Name and Surname: Angelo Johnson
Qualification details: Master’s degree in Environmental and Water Science
Birthplace: Darling, Western Cape, South Africa
Current location: Cape Town, South Africa
What are you currently doing: Junior Scientist at South African National Parks (SANParks) / PhD candidate in Environmental and Water Science at University of the Western Cape
Quote that motivates your work: “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” – Steve Jobs
“Explore the unknown and find true happiness” – Unknown
- When you were younger, what did you think you’d become?
Always wanted to become an international Pilot, to travel and see the world. But, realistically I thought I’d become a teacher since everyone in my family are teaching.
- Tell us about your career path. What steps did you take to get where you are?
After school I went to Stellenbosch University to pursue a BSc degree in Sport Science and dropped out after only one year. The following year I went to work in construction until I got employed at Koeberg Nuclear power station (Eskom) as a Radiation Protection Decontamination utility man. During my 6 months at Eskom, I saved up enough money to enroll at the University of the Western Cape to pursue a BSc degree in Environmental and Water Science. Due to various reasons I struggled to get through undergrad but had done good enough in my final year and was accepted into the Honors program.
During honors, my interest in hydrogeology (the science of groundwater) grew as I was top in my class in the module. My current academic and professional mentor (Dr. J. Nel) then identified me and one other student to start off as an intern under him at his now previous company, GCS Water and Environment Pty (Ltd.). So, while my class mates were stressed about thesis writing, I was travelling through Mpumalanga from one coal mine to the other, doing field work for GCS.
Towards the end of honors, Dr. Nel made a career move back to the University of the Western Cape and dragged me a long and just like that, I was pursuing a master’s degree under him. It was during my master’s research that SANParks head hunted me and presented me with an opportunity of employment. Now I am currently a Junior Scientist at SANParks and a PhD Candidate at the University of the Western Cape where I am pursuing a research topic which relates to mining and the sustainability thereof after closure.
- What influenced your career choice?
Firstly, my late grandfather who shared my passion in Mathematics and Science during my early teens. Also, aside from the “Trompie en die boksombende” saga, I used to read encyclopedias in the library where my grandmother was the librarian.
Secondly, my love for the outdoors and exploring the roads less travelled.
Lastly, the natural environment. I always had questions about the different the shapes and sizes of mountains, and how it formed. Also I was always intrigued by rivers, streams and dams and how it operates.
- Did you know about this career when you were younger?
I had no clue what Hydrogeologists do. Groundwater wasn’t a common topic where I am from.
- Describe a typical work day?
The perfect work day is when I am in the field, collecting data trying to understand water flowing through rocks in the subsurface. Sometimes it is collecting water from a borehole in Kruger National Park with the wild life roaming around freely. And of course, a chop on the fire to end off the day correctly.
Other days, I am in the office analyzing data and writing reports. Whether in the field or the office, I always make some time to write that thesis.
- What makes your work exciting?
Through my work I can use my intelligence and abilities to contribute to the betterment of society and have loads of fun while doing it.
- What makes your work challenging?
Sometimes my field equipment gets stuck 50 meters down a borehole. Besides that, balancing work and research isn’t a very easy thing to do. But, I am starting to get used to 4hours of sleep per day.
- If you had to pinpoint a defining moment in your career, what would that be?
When I surprised Dr. Nel, who wasn’t aware of me at the time, with a hydrogeology test score of 96% and some mad fire making and braai skills afterwards. Everything great followed after.
- When did you know for sure this career is for you?
During honours, when I use to conceptualize the groundwater concepts in my head while the Professor was lecturing. I never really studied for that 96%. Also, I have gotten used to average marks before and everything changed after that one test.
- What do you wish you knew, before you started on this career path?
If I knew then what I know now, I may have become too comfortable and not end up where I am today. Everything that I didn’t know then, is what brought me to this moment. So, I wouldn’t want to do anything different.
- How does your current role fit into your career goals?
I am embarking into a research study for my PhD, where I can become the expert in what I do, if all goes well. Which brings me to my ultimate career goal which is to be the absolute best that I can be in what I do.
- What are your next steps? What do you still need to do to achieve your ideal work situation?
Firstly, to learn as much as I can, as quick as I can, for as long as I can from my professional mentor and friend (because he is the best in what he does).
Secondly, to obtain this PhD degree in due time and grow in the position I am in currently.
Lastly, to be in a position one day where I am part of a team who takes important decisions.
- What advice would you give to a young person?
Everybody has got different timelines to reach their “goals”. The secret is to keep loyal to your own goals, because ultimately, they are yours to achieve. Never ever stop working towards achieving your goals, no matter how big or small the steps, every step in the right direction is a step closer to your goals and dreams.