Making a Career in Environment

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 prasad.modak@emcentre.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/


If you like this post then please Follow me or forward this post to your colleagues

 

 

 

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Making a Career in Environment

  1. ** I am posting this response from Professor Mac Bethouex that may interest the readers **

    Prasad

    Just finished your blogs. I agree absolutely that the chalkboard is the perfect teaching visual aid. It goes at the perfect pace for comprehension and note-taking, it encourages discussion, it allows diversions and amendments. I was always sad when a young ass’t prof would arrive and sit in his office at the computer for weeks. I asked, What are you doing.” Reply: I am making powerpoint slides. My reply: Don’t. You should give the same lecture twice. One of my favorite teachers at U. Iowa would toss his lectures notes into the trash on his way out of the lecture room. One day I said, “That was an excellent lecture. Why toss the notes.” Reply: That is my way of keeping fresh. Next year I have to think about what is now and what is important and how I want to present it, and so on. I once gave a talk at a Great Lakes conferences on PCBs about some difficulties of modeling. When I finished someone asked if I would give her a copy of my notes: I handed her the overhead foils and she could not believe it. Teaching can be done in many ways and when it works it is wonderful. Thanks for the memories.

    Mac

    Like

  2. Dear Sir
    Such a simple but impactful message delivered through your blog. Can’t agree more and have followed a similar path that you have indicated, but the only thing genuinely missed out is my touch with professors and academics which I miss!! It’s really true that sometimes treading your path/ understanding your future growth takes longer than anticipated but happy are those who know their direction, even if late!!
    Inspired by your blog to think some things afresh and implement them!! Thanks for all the inspiration. Enjoy reading your blogs always.
    Warm regards
    Aparna

    Like

  3. Dr. Modak, you been an inspiration for this generation of youth who want to progressively work in the field of environment, that most certainly includes me. My first encounter with you was at an international workshop at IIT Bombay, from where I came to know about AIT and your contribution in this field.
    This blog like every other is on point to generate interest to continue reading. I as a PhD. scholar is not qualified enough to comment on his writings which are rather parts taken from his own life. But two aspects caught my attention, which are sensitivity and passion towards environment for any individual who wants to develop a career in this field, rest can be gradually developed following these two aspects.
    Moreover, following a role model for inspiration is utmost important for anyone. As, stated above my source of inspiration Dr. Modak and his life story which is putting out in front of world through these blogs keeps me going.
    Hence, I can say for me or may for other’s working in this field following this blog which is like a prepared path to make a respectable career in the field of environment and not just help ourselves to succeed but also to create an impact and bring a change in this world.
    In other words of Dr. Modak, “Environment is such a great subject that giving back enriches everybody’s life and make your life worth living. And only those who are fortunate, take environment as their career.”
    Regards:
    Abhishek

    Like

  4. Dear Prasad,

    Very sage advice for any professional field and I have no criticisms of the specifics at all.

    I do however find an intriguing analogy from your advice, namely that only about 5% of CV’s are of interest. To me this represents an inherent problem of agency in that many people would like to help the environment but for all but 5% it does not pay.

    In essence, it is 5% asking the remaining 95% to be volunteers to the cause, and this can explain why sustainable practices can be hard to implement despite everybody acknowledging their importance.

    Is it more than just a curious analogy, or does it identify that sustainability must be fully inclusive and profits and contributions shared equally in order for it to become an economic model?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s