story + photos by Erica Roche, Summer 2022 Intern from University of Maine
In the spring semester of my senior year as an Ecology and Environmental Science major at the University of Maine, I began to hear exciting news of the careers and new educational pursuits of my peers. Intimidated, I did not know what I wanted to do or how I was supposed to figure it all out before graduation. Should I continue on to graduate school or jump right into a job? I am still navigating the field of ecology myself but if my experiences and advice can help another early career graduate I will gladly share my knowledge and hopefully take some of my own advice.
Recognize you are not alone.
Imposter syndrome was and is something that has affected me and my ability to apply for different programs and jobs throughout college and into my life post graduation. Was I smart enough for graduate school? Was I qualified for an amazing job? There is no single way to cancel out this feeling, but my advice is to talk about it. More often than not, the people around you feel the same way.
Keep an open mind.
When I started looking into graduate school programs and possible careers I was trying to figure out what topic I would be interested in within the broader field of marine science. I read published articles, watched question-and-answer videos of career professionals, and thought about my own experience in college courses and field research, about the kind of work I wanted to do, and where. Eventually, I focused on marine plastic pollution in the Northeast. The research was new and it seemed that there were many gaps that needed to be filled. No matter the topic you are interested in, it is okay to change your mind. Sometimes you might have to broaden or narrow your field of vision in order to find what you are looking for.
After deciding I wanted to focus on water quality with the topic of ocean pollution, I continued my job search (via LinkedIn, Conservation Job Board, Texas A&M, Society for Conservation Biology, and USA Jobs). Even though I had finally found a research topic I was happy with, it was still difficult to find the right fit. Of some 20 jobs I applied for, only two actually involved studying microplastics. My reasoning for this was to gain as much experience as I could regardless of the specific topic in ecology because I knew any experience was good experience. Applying for jobs can be discouraging—all the rejections, or worse, not hearing any response at all. My best advice for this is to send follow up emails a week or two after submitting your application. It also helps to have a question about the position to include in your email to show that you have been continuing to think about this position. If you put in the work people will start to notice and if you really want something you can make it happen.
I reached out to current and former professors, potential graduate school advisors, and career professionals who studied something I would like to study. My advice for emailing is to not get upset if you do not receive the response you were looking for. The goal of these emails is to make a new contact who could potentially provide you with advice or send an interesting job posting your way.
Trust your gut.
It is okay to not know what you want to do for work for the rest of your life. It is also okay to change your mind and try different professions out. No one graduate has the same experience or takes the same path when joining the workforce. After I turned down my first job offer, I took my own advice and remained positive, and soon received an email about an opening for the summer here at Schoodic Institute and immediately applied when it mentioned working in the intertidal zone at Acadia National Park. As my season here at Schoodic comes to an end I’m so glad I trusted my gut and let the other position go. Now I am one step closer to achieving my goal and I got to learn more about myself along the way.
Ask for help.
If you take one thing away from this advice it should be don’t be afraid to ask for help. The number one thing I recommend to enter the workforce is reaching out to anyone and everyone with questions or introductions. I wish you, the reader, the best of luck in all your future endeavors! You got this!