Member Profile: Tara McClinton, Lab Technician, Napa Sanitation District

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“The requirement to continue training is vital because it ensures we stay up to date with current trends in the field.”

Tara McClinton
Volunteer TCP Moderator
Lab Technician II
Napa Sanitation District
Laboratory Analyst, Grade 4
Environmental Compliance Inspector, Grade 4

This month’s member Q&A is with Tara McClinton, a CWEA member since 2004. Tara is a Lab Technician with Napa Sanitation District and a member of the Redwood Empire Section.

1. How did you get your first job in the wastewater profession?

When I was in high school and exploring career options, there was a train derailment along the upper Sacramento River that spilled thousands of gallons of a toxic chemical into the river. Although it devastated miles of biological and aquatic habitat, it planted a seed in my mind.
I wondered how they would help the habitat recover and what they would do to prevent another accident from occurring. This started my interest in chemistry and environmental science.
After graduating from UC Santa Barbara, I looked for careers where I could use the skills I had learned to benefit the environment in some way.
At the time I first saw the job announcement for a local municipal wastewater laboratory position, I was working as a Project Manager for a hazardous waste firm. I had a friend who worked for a contract wastewater lab and she told me about the job and what a great industry it was. She convinced me to apply and gave me some tools to study to help my chances at getting hired. I am so grateful to her!
The day I was hired was an ultimate turning point in my life because it started a wonderful and fulfilling career. And here I am, using my environmental science and chemistry knowledge to help sustain my local watershed and the San Francisco Bay.

2. How did you become involved in CWEA’s certification exam development process?
As soon as I was hired, my supervisor started inviting me to attend CWEA workshops and conferences so I could learn all about the industry and laboratory techniques to hone my skills. Right away, I appreciated all the knowledge that was exchanged at these events, along with the networking opportunities.
As the industry has evolved so has the way we deal with data, scientific analysis, analytical equipment, reporting, etc. This has created a need for updating the way we certify laboratory analysts in this field. I was very interested in being a part of this update and providing my knowledge and experience.
It has been fascinating to learn how the test creation process functions. Working with other CWEA certified Laboratory professionals on this project and learning how other labs perform analysis is always captivating and eye opening.

3. What does it mean to you being a certified Laboratory professional?
Being certified with CWEA is invaluable because it exposes you to a great resource of information to get the job done! There are numerous training events, networking opportunities, and online resources.
Certification is important to our industry because it combines job knowledge and education to gauge the knowledge needed to perform specific tasks. The requirement to continue training is vital because it ensures we stay up to date with current trends in the field.

4. What is it like for you taking your Lab certification tests? Advice for test takers?
With any test, I get very anxious and taking my first CWEA test was no different. After passing my CWEA Laboratory Analyst Grade 1 exam, I was so relieved! The single best tool that got me through it was the respective study guide.
All of the references are listed in the study guide, along with practice questions. For those who have a harder time with tests, I recommend taking a CWEA study course. The courses review every grade and go through the materials more thoroughly, so you could ask questions and get answers to the questions challenge you.

5. Anything unique about our profession most people don’t know?
Some people think that working in a lab is boring and repetitive, but it isn’t. There are so many different types and fields of analysis that involve microbiology, inorganic and organic chemistry, plant process control, and more.
Also, there’s always more to learn as instrumentation and methods evolve with advancements in science.

6. Any other advice for new people entering our profession on how to get ahead and be successful?
Visit and take a tour of your local treatment plant! Also, join CWEA and start attending events in your local area, even as a student!