Why Getting Involved Is So Important!
Employers in the environmental industry have the unique position of interviewing recent graduates eager to enter into the industry. From their perspective, they are able to assess the skills of incoming ES graduates and match them up to the skills needed as a competitive environmental professional. Private-sector employers want job candidates who "can do everything, who have specialized technical knowledge, yet can apply multidisciplinary skills to any problem." (N. Basta, author of a number of environmental career books) When posed the question, "What does an ES graduate need to get a foot in the door?" by the Environmental Careers Organization, the most frequent responses were:
• Communication skills (written and oral)
• Practical experience and internships
• Computer skills
• Specific technical expertise (related to job)
• Analytic skills
Recent trends in the environmental job industry correspond with the aforementioned need for people with an interdisciplinary and scientific background. Newer, multidisciplinary job opportunities, such as "Environmental Manager," reflects the types of environmental careers available today. Such positions often demand someone who has a degree with strength in the natural, physical, or life sciences, and is also knowledgeable about environmental policy, public administration, or business administration, to hire.
According to the Environmental Careers Organization's graduate survey, what ES alumni felt was most important for today's students to do to help them prepare for an environmental job are:
• Take more science-related course work
• Take more fieldwork and hands-on classes
• Seek out resources and participate in internships and activities outside of school
• Receive guidance in course selection and career preparation
Nicholas Basta, author of a number of environmental career books, also has a few tips on preparing for an environmental job while still in school:
- Always work on your communication skills, no matter how confident you are of them.
- The essence of environmental work is the life and physical sciences, engineering, and the health professions.
- As the environmental field grows and evolves, and as more conventional college level environmental programs open up, the level of expertise expected of new job seekers will rise.
When Environmental Studies alumni from UCSB were asked what skills they used most frequently in their profession, the top replies were:
• oral communication
• writing skills
• analytical skills
• teamwork computer skills
• math skills
• fieldwork/data collection
Graduates who have not sufficiently developed their communication, interpersonal, and analytical skills often find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes time to compete for employment in today's job market. The successful environmental studies graduate has more to offer than just a college diploma; rather, the graduate of an interdisciplinary environmental program who has developed the skills mentioned above will more likely be the one employers will want to hire.
HOW YOU CAN OBTAIN THE NECESSARY SKILLS TO BE SUCCESSFUL
The deciding factor for being selected for a job or accepted to graduate school is not only good grades, but the amount of experience a recent graduate has in dealing with "real world" situations and their ability to work alone as well as in a group. An employer wants an employee who is versatile, self-reliant, has a high level of self-esteem, can fulfill leadership positions, and can be trusted to do the job. No manager wants to invest time and money in training someone who has never set foot outside the "ivory towers" of academia or who has not demonstrated an ability to interact with others in a professional setting.
The bottom line is, the classroom will provide the formal education, but it is up to the individual student to pursue those experiential opportunities (internships, senior thesis, field projects, etc.) that will heighten professional stature and job marketability. Opportunities to develop those skills deemed important by both ES alumni and industry executives are available, but only those who are motivated and dedicated will take advantage of them.
Senior Thesis - So Important to ES Graduates!
It's obvious that a senior thesis would require a lot of work from anyone. But, there is no other course offered within the ES Program that offers such a rich opportunity to help yourself prepare for your future activities as an environmental professional. In writing a thesis, you will develop necessary abilities and skills such as: researching, analyzing and evaluating data, and writing and speaking about your knowledge and conclusions.
In 1991 the ES program distributed a questionnaire to 500 Environmental Studies graduates (year of graduation: 1969 to 1990) and roughly half (251) responded. Nearly three-fourths of the group were presently working in a field that involves environmental issues. When the senior thesis was required for all ES graduates (1972-1993), we recognized that many students were reluctant to undertake the thesis project, so we asked these graduates if the thesis had been optional, would they have done it? Roughly half reported that they would have avoided it, for one or more of the following reasons:
3) too much work
4) not enough time to do the thesis
5) wanting to graduate on time 6) wanting to take other classes
However, the graduates reported overwhelmingly (over 90%) that if they had not done the thesis, they now feel that they would have missed an important educational experience.
What would they have missed? Typically, these graduates reported that through doing the thesis, they learned how to follow a major project through to completion. They learned how to use the library, how to talk to professionals and professors about their subject, and how to gather and analyze data. In learning that they could complete a long document, they reported that they gained confidence, improved their writing skills, improved their ability to make oral presentations, and improved their time-management skills. One graduate, now a lawyer, reported, "I learned that research involves persistence, creativity and thoroughness-which I have often had to utilize in legal research." Several reported another benefit. Either the skills they developed or (more typically) the knowledge they gained about a specialized area of content led directly to their first job in environmental work.
For most of these graduates, the senior thesis modeled a process of inquiry and communication that they now use professionally. Moreover, these "thesis-like" activities of gathering and analyzing data, planning, drafting and revising reports occupy a major amount of the time Environmental Studies graduates spend at work. One quarter of the graduates working in environmental fields spend over 80% of their time in such activities; two thirds of them devote more than 40% of their time to such work. Among graduates working in non-environmental fields, over half spend more than 20% of their time doing "thesis-like" work.
So, although the Environmental Studies Program’s Senior Thesis course (Env s 197) is an elective, every ES major should heed the advice of past ES alumni and strongly consider pursuing a Senior Thesis!!!!
Complete at Least One Internship Before Graduating!
By far the most common and often successful experiential opportunity available to any college undergrad is participating in an internship. An internship can be so important to getting a job that it is cited by many environmental studies alumni as "the most valuable aspect of their undergraduate experience," according to the Environmental Careers Organization (ECO). Often a professional internship can bridge the difficult transition between completion of an undergraduate education and the environmental job market. Internships are a great mechanism for students to explore and apply their course work to real world situations. It also provides an opportunity to see if a particular career or environmental industry is what they really want to pursue once graduated. The skills and experiences a student obtains prove invaluable in assisting them in securing a job after graduation or being accepted to graduate school. Most importantly, student interns gain valuable experience and prove to themselves and potential employers that they can survive in the professional workplace.
Students majoring in either environmental studies or hydrologic sciences may choose to complete an internship from the Environmental Studies Internship Program (ESIP). Managed by the environmental studies internship coordinator, this academic program was initiated in 1973 to provide students with experience in their field of interest and to tie classroom learning to practical field applications.
Internships are considered an integral part of the environmental studies and hydrologic sciences curriculum and are fully supported by the faculty. Each year, between 120 and 150 students are placed in internships locally, statewide, nationally, and internationally. Positions are available year round and the internship coordinator is available to assist students in selecting appropriate internships to meet their learning objectives. Academic credit (Environmental Studies 192) is awarded to junior and senior level students who successfully complete an internship position. An extensive internship database as well as general information regarding the Environmental Studies Internship Program is available on the Environmental Studies Program's webpage.
Consider Pursuing a Field Studies, Study Abroad, and/or Research Opportunities
The UCSB Environmental Studies Program strongly encourages its students to participate in experiential elective courses, study abroad programs, or any other academic opportunities which enhance their environmental education. The environmental studies curriculum has a number of special courses which allow students to conduct independent research projects (Environmental Studies 199), work as a research assistant for one of its faculty members (Environmental Studies 199RA), or pursue a senior thesis on a topic of their choice (Environmental Studies 197).
Additionally, through the outside concentration requirement, environmental studies students may earn academic credit towards their major requirements while conducting field research in the outdoors with faculty from all over the globe. A number of field studies and research programs exist throughout the county such as San Francisco State's Wildlands Studies Program, University of Montana's Wild Rockies Field Institute, UC Santa Cruz's Sierra Institute, and Boston College's The School for Field Studies.
Furthermore, the flexibility of the environmental studies curriculum permits students the opportunity to pursue study abroad programs through the UC Education Abroad Program. Past environmental studies majors have taken up to one full year to study at universities located in New Zealand, Ecuador, England, Scandinavia, and the University of Pittsburgh's Semester at Sea. Depending on the coursework taken, academic credit may be petitioned to substitute for a large number of units in the environmental studies or hydrologic sciences majors.
Approximately one-half to two-thirds of all environmental studies majors complete at least one field studies or study abroad program before graduating. Additional information about affiliated environmental field studies programs and study abroad programs is available from the environmental studies academic advisor.