Environmental science is a broad field, like a wide shallow river. It is up to you to develop a skillset for yourself. This skillset represents a deep spot in your education where you have a high degree of competence, expertise or specialty to offer employers. This specialty is to make yourself unique and to stand out. It is your responsibility to yourself to find the area that catches your interest the most and develop your skills in that area. As one environmental science graduate who now heads a group at the US-EPA put it, with an environmental degree “if you know what you’re doing, you can land anywhere.” Learn yourself, so you know what you are doing.
It’s important to develop a focus, a deep knowledge of a skill that will make you more attractive as a job candidate. Examples include programming (learn a language), geographic information systems (GIS) experience, database management, statistics, field experience, surveying, chemistry analytical techniques, electronics, proficiency with operating and maintaining a piece of advanced laboratory equipment (ex. mass spectrometry), and learning how to use an advanced piece of software such as AutoCAD. Other possibilities include classes at the engineering school such as Into to Environmental Engineering Science, Environmental Engineering Science Lab, Computer Graphics Engineering, Civil Engineering Graphics Lab, Site Investigation (teaches surveying techniques) or Engineering Mechanics. Specialize in one of the three disciplines, Geology, Oceanography or Meteorology. If you want to go to graduate school in the sciences, load up on Calculus, Chemistry and Physics.
Internships will build experience in your field and help you determine if you like the subject and type of work. It will also let you meet people in the field, so you can make connections that may become helpful further down the road. Another advantage of internships is that you can gain a referee that probably has spent more time with you than your professors and can speak to your abilities outside the classroom.
Similar to internships, volunteering/working in a lab on-campus will build your experience and develop a relationship with a perspective referee. If you start working in a lab on-campus early in your time at FSU (1st or 2nd year) there are potentially more opportunities available to you within that lab. This can include earning more responsibilities, learning more skills, and potentially working on an individual project; all of these make you more attractive to future employers/advisors.
Look at professional societies in your area of interest and consider joining as a student member. Professional societies commonly have discounted student rates that provide you with access to the society’s scientific journal and valuable resources such as forums that post internship and job opportunities. You may also consider attending the society’s conference. Attending a scientific conference will give you a front-row seat to the scientific process and provide the opportunity to meet other students and professionals in the field.
Depending on the specific filed you are interested in, there are certifications that might make you more attractive to prospective employers/advisors. For example, if you want to work with environmental containments, a HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) certification may help, or if you want to do field work that involves a boat, you may want to get a boat safety course certification.
Someone who knows you will will be better equipped to write a strong reference letter for you. As mentioned above, internships and working in a lab on-campus are both great ways to let someone get to know you better. In large classes it can be difficult for a professor to get to know you well and then the professor will have little information on which to base a reference letter. Going above and beyond the requirements of a class, or volunteering for extra activities or projects will go a long way in helping a professor get to know you better and providing the professor with detailed examples that strengthen reference letters.
Curriculum Vitae (CV)
CV’s or resumes summarize your work and educational experiences for prospective employers/advisors. It’s not uncommon for CVs to be used as a way to quickly cut down an applicant pool, so it is very important to put a lot of time into your CV. Make sure it is easy to read/navigate, accurate, and perfectly formatted. FSU’s career center has a website with guidelines and tips for writing your CV. Additionally, the career center will review your CV for you and also offers mock interviews. Click here for CV writing tips.
How to Find Jobs
These are two-year programs for recent graduates that place you in an agency.
Below are websites to search for environmental science job postings; this is only a basic list, there are certainly more resources out there. It’s also a good idea to look at society websites for your particular interests. For example, the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography website and the Society for Marine Mammalogy have job posting sections for members. Additionally, society forums are also useful places to search for job postings. Keep in mind that jobs with small nonprofit organizations, environmental consulting agencies, and other organizations might not be part of any job search engines. If you have a particular location in mind, try looking at the businesses/attractions in that area; for example, local zoos/aquariums, environmentally friendly landscaping companies, air quality specialists, media outlets (environmental reporting), and schools (teaching environmental science). Also, ask teachers, graduate students, friends, family, and acquaintances in your specific field of interest for organizations to consider.