When I first considered a career in marine ecology, I did so with no real contacts in the field. That trajectory was truly due to personal interest and exposure to the topic as I was growing up. However, I was fortunate to have good mentorship as an undergraduate and found online resources with paid internship opportunities. Luckily, I came into my undergraduate program with an expectation to build skills and academic ability both inside and outside of the classroom, and my program (University of Rhode Island) provided a good roadmap for how the four years should progress along with some built-in on-campus summer research programs and other ancillary opportunities. However, the stepping stones to a full-on career were still obscured, as if fading into a fog.
So, how do you build this career? How far ahead can you even plan?
To make it in a career in science and conservation, grit and stick-to-itiveness combined with a career development plan implemented as early as possible are necessary ingredients. For the career plan, it is important to see how far you can plan out – four years of university is fairly easy, but a ten-year plan beyond that is imperative to allow for at least some structure. Being flexible, noting that you will meet new collaborators and become interested in new topics and questions along the way, is also recommended. Be open to those spontaneous meetups that could be career-defining. I am extremely fortunate to have large network of collaborators, centered around certain topics, that continues to expand. That was not built overnight, and one has to show both competence in the topic and in dealing with people and their idiosyncrasies. It is also important to recognize that some collaborations take time to mature, and those will progress at different rates.
What a career development plan helps to define are the skills, experiences, and topics which will be important to focus on, taking into account that you often are the victim of unconscious incompetence (that is, you don’t know what you don’t know). This last point is why it is so important to seek advice from professionals who are further along in their careers – and to seek advice from a variety of sectors of the science and conservation world. If I had sought out advice from a conservation scientist at an aquarium, for instance, perhaps I would have come to that point in my career a bit earlier. Instead, I was fortunate to land a tenure-track position, having also considered consulting and government work. I never thought I would be in the non-profit NGO (non-governmental organization) space, but I also never consulted with anyone in that area until I was well into graduate school. My plan stopped with completing my Ph.D., and the hazy idea of a postdoc and perhaps a tenure-track position. I now realize what could have been done to make that a clearer professional path.
All this is to say: make a plan, seek advice, and execute that plan with grace and openness to what life may bring you. This is what we offer through Remote Ecologist to scientists in different career stages. If you are interested in more personalized and customized career advice, feel free to reach out to us via DM or email@example.com to schedule a session.
Dr. Dave Hudson
Founder, Remote Ecologist