I was always into the outdoors, nature, and biology. Conservation, in particular, was at the forefront of my mind. That brought me to the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. But it wasn’t until I was on campus that I discovered the Natural Resource and Environmental Sciences major through conversations with friends and classmates. It sounded very interesting and focused on the things I wanted to learn. I selected the major within a few weeks of arriving on campus, and also chose my concentration in Fish and Wildlife Conservation because it felt like a good fit for my interests in wildlife.
Some of my most meaningful experiences on campus were related to research opportunities that I gained through classes and networking on campus. For example, I took a class called Ichthyology (the study of fish) which encourages students to develop their own research projects. It seemed daunting at first, but turned out to be a great experience. I ended up using my research paper as a writing sample for the job I have right now. I also took a class in Landscape Ecology that included both undergraduate and graduate students. My group project teammate was a PhD student! We built a great working relationship and the following summer he employed me as a field technician intern for a research project in the Department of Natural Resources. In the next school year, I continued to work with him doing more lab-based work. These experiences were very helpful as I explored my own career interests and, in the end, played a huge role in landing my current job.
I took a few steps along the way to my current job. After graduation, I worked for AmeriCorps for four months in northern Arizona through non-profit organization, American Conservation Experience. This first professional experience provided a great opportunity to explore ecosystems in different parts of the country. From there, I moved back to Illinois for a summer internship at Wills Burke Kelsey and Associates, an engineering and environmental consulting firm. This opportunity was exciting because environmental consulting can be a challenging field to break into. Having an internship provided an excellent foundation for my next step. Now I am a Biologist with BioResource Consultants Inc. in Ojai, CA. I discovered this position through networking connections and staying committed to finding a full-time job in my field of interest. Having relevant experience and now being able to explain concepts in field-specific language really made a difference in my landing the job. There are so many aspects of my job that I love. I am a voice for the environment, bringing awareness to communities and companies about the impact of their actions. I get to be outdoors, work in beautiful places, and do meaningful work. I am not only protecting our environment, but I am also emotionally invested in doing it.
I encourage current Illinois students to take early steps to gain experiences to explore your career interests. Look to build networks all around you. Networking connections do not have to be external to the university; get connected to your professors and even your classmates to build meaningful connections for your future career. My Illinois friends are now located all over the country, pursuing careers in similar areas. We can help each other out. Isn’t it great that you know all those people?
(Last Updated: March 2016)