Transportation Pipeline Careers: Scientists Wanted

A collage image of people working on pipe, ranging from safety techs to engineers to scientists.

Interested in math and science? Read on. Then check out our video featuring Dave Mulligan, who turned his love of math and science into an amazing transportation career working for the Federal Government.

Dave works for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or, PHMSA (pronounced “fimza”). PHMSA is a small government agency with a big job to do. Aside from regulating the transportation of hazardous materials (like flammable liquids) over land, sea, and air, PHMSA also creates and enforces the safety and environmental regulations that manage our nation’s millions of miles of pipeline.

Screenshot image from video interview with Dave Mulligan.

Click a button to watch a interview with Dave Mulligan.

Pipelines transport the materials that power our cities, homes, and automobiles. These materials might include oil, water, or natural gas. Pipelines can run for hundreds, or even thousands of miles through cities, fields, or even under water. That’s why they are subject to strict regulations: to ensure they remain safe for people and the environment. And that’s one of the biggest parts of Dave’s job.

“Every day, millions of people use [pipeline materials] safely,” Dave said. “It’s [because] our agency is working with the pipeline companies to make sure they are paying attention to safety. And that they’re looking out for, not only the public, but [also] their employees and the environment.”

Dave said he uses his strong background in science, math, and engineering as a daily part of his job. On a given day, he might be performing a safety inspection on a natural gas pipeline. Or, he could be educating residents of a small town about a pipeline in their area.

“We want to educate people. I often go to public meetings. [People] have a lot of questions about pipelines and what our agency does to make sure pipelines are safe in the community,” he said.

Dave told Fast Forward that he knew as early as middle school that his future would somehow involve math and science.

“I wanted a right or wrong answer. Yes or no, or a number, for math and science. And I knew I had a knack for that. And I liked to take things apart and put them back together—I was very mechanical when I was growing up.”

He said that learning to identify his strengths in middle school and high school—and then running with them—was key to finding a career he’s passionate about today. In school, he worked hard in his math and science courses. He also took advanced placement classes whenever he could and always kept his sights on the next step: attending college.

Dave attended a school known for its excellent engineering program—the Colorado School of Mines. He tells Fast Forward readers that attending such a specialized school helped him develop his skills and interests into an amazing career in pipeline transportation.

“That’s where I really flourished. I was around people with the same kind of thoughts in terms of…very methodical in terms of right or wrong answers, and they were more interested in math and science rather than history and English, which I wasn’t good at and my friends were,” he said.

Today he advises Fast Forward readers to follow a similar formula throughout their life. Find something you are good at and develop that skill. If you are good at math, take as many math courses as you can. Then try to get into advanced placement courses.

He also says working for a Federal Government agency like PHMSA holds excellent opportunities for career-bound students.

“There is a job in the Federal government for basically any skill that you’re interested in, from nursing, to operations and maintenance manager, to real estate, up to engineering and design … you just have to know what you’re looking for.”

Dave also reminds students to keep their eyes open for pre-college work study programs and internships. These opportunities can help you take your first career steps ahead of schedule.

He also suggested getting an internship. PHMSA, along with a lot of other agencies hire pre-college students for part-time work and in college there are actual internships.

He ended his interview with Fast Forward with one final piece of advice for students:

“The biggest thing is do well in school. Look for a college no matter what after high school. High school is not the end. Pursue and stick to your plan. It’s a rough road ahead of you. It’s a challenging road. It’s exciting. But stick to that plan, that goal of continuing your education. Wherever it may lead you, keep your eyes on the prize.”

Aaron Mack
Fast Forward: Volume 2 Issue 4 – Pipeline