I receive on an average five applications with Curriculum Vitae (CV) every day from students and young professionals who are interested to make careers in the field of environment. Out of the 100 CVs that I examine, I would say that less than 5% of the CVs look promising – or worth taking the discussion ahead.
I worry about the remaining 95%. I see that many of this category do not get jobs or advice (in the right time!) and subsequently run into a frustration and many a times even drop their plans of working in the field of environment. The ever-hungry IT sector offers them alternate opportunities.
I am writing this blog today to guide the students and young professionals on how should one build a career in the field of environment. I don’t have a remarkable story to tell about myself, but still I will use my career as an illustration wherever relevant.
The starting point is that you must be sensitive and have a passion towards environment. As you learn more, you should get even more excited. Does this make you restless? If it does, then great. I remember environment was always my passion. I was clear that this is what I want to learn about right in my undergraduate days.
You need to meet with people who work in the field of environment. You need to ask them questions and listen to what they have to say. I remember I met practically all those who mattered across the country. I travelled.
Think who you want to be? Identify personalities that may inspire you. Read my blog on who you want to be?. But be careful as it is a satire but has a lot of hidden messages.
See how can you add green (or more green) in your undergrad/grad program. Take electives and mini-projects that expose you to different topics of environment. I remember the second year elective offered by Professor S M Khopkar of Chemistry Department at IIT Bombay on “Environmental Pollution”. We had a choice to take 4 electives in the fourth and fifth year of BTech. You could do 4 electives on Systems and Control or Humanities or Environmental Science. I chose the latter.
If required, audit the courses that are “lateral” but are important e.g. a course on mass communication. I remember during my doctoral research I took lots of such lateral courses such as system simulation, combinotorial optimization.
Internship is very important. Carefully plan your internship. Ideally look for two internships – one with an industry and another with a research organization or a science based environmental NGO. If you can manage getting internship outside India, then go for it. Intern where you have someone to mentor or the program is well laid out. Practice based learning is the essence. If you are asked to produce a document only through Googling, then this kind of internship is not worth at all.
At Environmental Management Centre LLP, we have been running a serious internship program for more than 15 years. So far nearly 80 students have completed their internships. Visit www.emcentre.com and I would recommend you to browse through the internship topics we offered.
Selecting your project (bachelors/masters/PhD) and the Guide are very important decisions. The project should give you research as well as project management experience. It’s the experience that is more important than the outcomes. So, select a topic such that you meet lots of people and travel in the field. Aim for a good publication – ideally two – one in a national and one in an international refereed journal. Read my blog on the fuss that will tell you my story how I chose my bachelors project. You may enjoy my another blog on how to carry out “inconsequential research”
It is a clever idea to take part or start green campus initiatives. This could mean setting up of a solar hot water system for the college canteen or replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs or designing and installing a waste to compost facility. These initiatives will expose you to the practical aspects of design, costing, getting the sponsor (such as alumni) and getting involved in the implementation. Use your summer vacations for such a project implementation experience. In some cases, you could even link these campus projects with your research interest and formulate a bachelors or masters dissertation.
Become secretary of the student association on environment –set up FB /LinkedIn pages, bring out a newsletter and organize lectures of external faculty. Consider holding a national workshop – learn event management, make contacts and maintain them post the event. I remember working for a national workshop on environmental management that we conducted at IIT Bombay during my Masters. Professor P Khanna was the convener.
At bachelors and masters level, don’t overly specialize – look at all media (e.g. air, water, land) and get the nexus right. That will distinguish you from others. Give Indian statistics as much importance as the international. Familiarize with local and national situation, challenges and opportunities. Blend both theory and practice. Be comfortable in working in the lab and be familiar with instruments.
Pick up a job before moving to Masters or Doctoral – work for at least 2 to 3 years preferably at an institution that gives you a rounded experience. Getting the right experience is more important than the salary. Do read my blog on three interviews I faced during my job hunting! Oh, this was hilarious.
Small organizations with great people should be the first choice. Opportunity of working on “unconventional” projects should be the priority.
Join a professional association. Get involved. Help the association and learn. Get elected. Take a position in the organization of the association, Patronize the association and Grow. For last several years, I have been closely associated with the Indian Water Works Association. I edited the Journal over 8 years, organized national and international workshops and this helped me a lot.
Continue referring to the “library”. Identify the problems and opportunities you see in practice (as of today and as anticipated in the future), talk to to seniors/experts and see whether answers are already there. You may hit on something where solutions need to be evolved. Write two pagers on your ideas. Communicate and get them peered. I remember that I wrote my first two pager on the research needs on water supply engineering and sent the note to Professor Daniel Okun, legendary professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Professor Okun replied and offered me research assistanceship. That was amazing.
Find the best place where you want to research. Don’t compromise the university. Wait and have patience. Brand of the university where you do advanced learning is extremely important.
Make the best of your Masters/PhD program. Shape yourself well to face the world as you complete. You will never get such a time again.
Pick up a career stream based on your passion and the skills. Teaching? Research? Consulting? Technology Development? Technology Marketing? Project implementation? Policy and Regulations? Financing? You may experiment for a while if you like but all this should be done within the first 5 years max. In my case I tried to do all! But I must say I have been lucky to be the “free radical”
When you work take additional qualifications to update and build more skills – keep annual and five-year cycles for learning. Avoid templated work to the extent possible. As you grow, learn to manage teams and build experience on project management.
Become a mentor – keep connections with the Academia as the subject of environment is so dynamic. Look for visiting professor appointment. If required, spend your half Saturdays.
Continue working for professional associations, build your network – nationally and internationally
Publish to create impact. You will automatically be visible. Maintain high quality with no compromise. Keep a balance between individual and group publications, conferences and refereed journals.
Aspire to bring in a change that is impactful and measurable. You need to have patience and doggedness to pursue.
Finally, money should not be the objective of what you do. Money will chase you as much you stay away! Stay humble and celebrate others success. Have a compassion.
And finally, give back to the society. Environment is such a great subject that giving back enriches everybody’s life and makes your life worth living. And only those who are fortunate, take environment as their career.
I have said a lot and everything what I have said may not be possible. You may “delete” and “add” and “adapt” depending on your opportunities and situation. Feel absolutely free and if you need any advice then do reach me on email@example.com
Each year, I hold a one-day counseling workshop on making careers in environment called as Disha. We will hold Disha this year after the academic sessions are over around April end or so.
I will notify and if you are interested, then please do attend Disha.
I will be glad to help.
I will be on on Facebook Live on Sunday 28 9:00 AM India time/ Sat 27 10:30 PM US EST. If interested then do join me
Cover image sourced from http://wolhawaii.com/the-journey-of-my-destiny/
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