How to manage psychological stress of hydrogeologists / numerical modelers?


Over the time, we have seen numerical modeling as a great tool for the evaluation of the groundwater flow regime and we might have seen numerical modelers as high level professionals with strong analytical capabilities that can provide all the answers we need to proof that a project is sustainable or the accuracy of a predictive simulation. On a broad perspective we might have overestimated the numerical modeling exercise and sometimes deified numerical modelers, but by sure we haven’t seen them as humans.

All professions have their stress factors, however since we are numerical modelers, we can only talk about our group, by sure extrapolations to other areas are feasible. We can say that all hydrogeologist / numerical modelers have suffered stress over their professional career, or they might be dealing with stress on a constant basis.  A main motivation of writing this article was the amount of emails we receive from people struggling with numerical modeling, where they have no idea what is going on with the software and certainly they have no one to ask or ask effectively ( you can ask anyone, but it doesn’t mean you will get a solution ).

Trying to avoid specific personal experiences, we want to give an article showing the dimension of a problem that is common but not well addressed. On the social networks we post about our achievements but no one posts abouts if failures or stagnant phases in numerical modeling.

How to manage stress?

There are certain factors that we have to consider in order to manage stress:

Keeping a real dimension of numerical modeling

Some people tell us that they want to model something and they have just a few weeks to learn the software and make a simulation, for those emails we respectfully answer: Do you believe in God, because you are looking for a miracle.

Entrepreneurship is overestimated and dealing with numerical models without previous theoretical and good knowledge of the software is a perfect recipe for failure and for psychological stress.

Time required for a model having an intermediate or expert level in numerical modeling is unknown, but surely involves hundreds of hours dealing with the documentation, tutorials and data analysis. You can’t modeling everything that is related to groundwater flow, but you have to model something that is reasonable with the data and the capabilities you have, if you find this equilibrium you will see the light at the end of tunnel or the convergence at the end of the simulation.

Keeping a “healthy” project

Most of the factors that cause stress are related to the numerical model project itself. Most times the project has some issues as:

  • Poor data or bad quality data

  • Short timeframes

  • Few resources (although with open source software that is not a big deal)

  • Extensive requirements

  • Unclear objectives

  • And others based on the human nature

If you put all these ingredients in a blender you will have a failure flavored juice bringing an atmosphere of stress for the people involved in the numerical simulations. It´s true that we can’t control all factors related to the hydrogeological investigation, but keeping in mind those stressors is a good exercise to deal with a chaotic project in a good psychological shape.

Improve your physical environment

Hardware is dependent on software and vice versa; as well as managing a good physical environment is key to a good psychological environment. In your working area you have to look for a good computer setup, with decent processing capabilities, a respectable monitor area (not small, not big), a comfortable chair in a quiet area. Some plants and artwork could help to improve the atmosphere. We strongly believe that no good calibration can be achieved if the modeler works next to a ringing phone.

Keep you well hydrated and don’t abuse coffee. Having more than 7 hours of sleep, doing exercises and healthy food also helps a lot to keep the balance.

Involve the client

The client can be the stakeholders, the thesis supervisor, your boss, a company, a city or the civil society. A normal school/university education is not enough for understanding the value of the concept appropriation and how key is for the acceptance of the results of the numerical model. Investing time in mapping the client and its expectations is a good exercise to avoid the stress of reviews, complaints and even refusals of the numerical simulations.

As we aren’t the owner of the truth and if you have experienced psychological stress while numerical modeling please share your experience and perspectives on the comment area below.

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