Morgan Bailey, an associate geochemist at the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS), is the recipient of the Prairie Research Institute’s 2020 Outstanding New Support Staff Award.
Since she joined ISGS in 2017, Bailey has not only excelled in her responsibilities with the Stable Isotope Laboratory, she has also proactively addressed priorities for ISGS and PRI, including facilitating annual laboratory safety audits and the maintenance and calibration of laboratory equipment and managing shared resources (such as the Natural Resource Building’s deionized water system). She also is assisting PRI safety officer Shari Effert-Fanta with a critical institute-wide initiative to provide safety guidelines for a wide range of fieldwork activities.
In nominating Bailey, ISGS principal research scientist Randy Locke described her as “a proactive thinker, planner, communicator, and goal setter” and praised her efforts to ensure continuity of the isotope lab’s operations when a change of leadership occurred in 2018, as well as her assistance in helping the new manager become familiar with the lab’s operations.
“She does a great job of taking the initiative to solve problems and offer solutions. She also is a clear communicator when challenging issues occur,” wrote Locke. “She is an excellent, supportive co-worker and provides exemplary service to others.”
Bailey recently answered a few questions about the award and her work.
You wear a couple of different hats now at PRI. What are your two roles, and how do you balance your time between them?
As an associate geochemist in the ISGS Stable Isotope Service Laboratories (SIL), I support research programs across the University, and externally, by providing critical high-quality research data. As the PRI assistant safety coordinator, I promote and assist the development of vital health and safety initiatives that benefit all PRI staff.
What do you find most satisfying about the different types of work you do with PRI?
Since joining ISGS in 2015, I have assisted in the stable isotope lab, the optically stimulated luminescence lab, and the x-ray fluorescence and x-ray diffraction labs. More recently, I have also been working as the lab safety representative for ISGS and an assistant to the PRI Safety Coordinator, helping with lab safety and development of PRI’s field safety program.
During this time, I have worked with scientific staff and students across the Institute and the University. I have learned a great deal from my colleagues and have expanded my knowledge of geochemistry. I have also formed a deep respect for safety and fulfillment in the things I am doing. Overall, no day is ever the same, which has been a welcomed change of pace that keeps me on my toes and engaged in everything I do.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
The most challenging aspect of my job has been balancing the diverse responsibilities and priorities. Although challenging at first, with the support of my coworkers and time management, I developed a delicate harmony between my work in the SIL, ISGS safety, and PRI safety. Another challenge that I have enjoyed has been the consistent expansion of tasks that have resulted in the need to learn new software programs to help advance our projects.
What are misconceptions that people may have about lab and fieldwork safety, or common questions that you get about safety?
Safety at the Institute is paramount. Unfortunately, there is a misconception that safety professionals purposefully make lives harder by creating unnecessary work for staff. Instead, the safety program benefits staff by providing them with the tools and resources needed to handle any situation they may encounter. As an example, in the development of our field safety program, we have consulted with our expert staff as well as nationally accredited sources to provide personnel with the most up-to-date information and guidelines. We also rely on feedback to continually update and improve our developing program.
Another common misconception is that staff who are very experienced in their field, are fully capable of handling any situation they could encounter and that safety training and guidance is primarily for the "rookies." Yet, experienced staff can become complacent and lax with their practices, inherently introducing a level of risk. It is important that everyone stay vigilant with procedures because accidents can happen to anyone.
What first drew you to geochemistry as a career path?
While obtaining my bachelor's in chemistry at the U of I, I met Shari Effert-Fanta, the previous lab manager for the Stable Isotope Laboratory. At the time, she was looking for assistance in the lab to help process samples and maintain the equipment. I had limited hands-on experience using technical instrumentation in school, so I was thrilled for the opportunity to work with isotope ratio mass spectrometers. With a limited background in geology, my work with the SIL and the other ISGS service labs has fostered my understanding of geochemistry into the incredible career I have now. I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity.
How does it feel to receive the Outstanding New Support Staff Award?
I am truly honored to receive the award of 2020 Outstanding New Support Staff. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support and guidance of my coworkers at ISGS and PRI.