As a humanities oriented student majoring in Environmental Studies, I’ve always found it difficult to envision an ideal career. Now that I’m also a senior, the pressure’s really on.

Lucky for me, this past week Lafayette hosted a panelist of professionals working in environmental careers. Each of the panelists work in quite different roles, ranging from Farm Manager at a Massachusetts nonprofit to Environmental Services Trainee with the DEP. They are also at different stages in their career, and mainly offered advice about how to proactively explore the field of environmentalism.

Some of the advice was general: Network as much as possible, get diverse experience through internships and volunteering, make close relationships with faculty while you still can. These are all things I’ve heard (and tried) before, and most students know they’re easier said than done. 

Some of their ideas struck me a little bit more. Zachary Lamb affirmed that a liberal arts education is about learning how to learn and think creatively, which will translate well in any new role. As someone with limited technical/STEM skills, I found this comforting. He went on to explain that there are three main dimensions of professional development to balance. One of these was tangible skills (lets hope I can learn most of these on the job!), but the other two were more interesting. The next was the ability to be reflective, and in particular, consider how the work you’re doing relates to your values. If your role does not reflect your values, you are unlikely to be happy or successful. Next, he proposed the relational aspect of jobs: Connecting and relating with peers, informal networking, constant learning. I had never considered these latter dimensions, but I feel like they’re both things I have the ability to act on appropriately. Maybe I’m not so hopeless after all!

Another big takeaway: Don’t stress your first job. Robert Neitz explained that you never know what experiences will be valuable down the line, and even if you don’t love what you’re doing, you’re most likely learning something. Your career intentions will likely change over time, so say yes to opportunities even if they don’t fit perfectly with your vision. Alaina Ungarini echoed this, explaining that she felt overqualified and bored in her first job monitoring water quality, but that it got her into her current, more preferable role. In the long run however, Sarah Stanlick proposed chasing work you find most interesting and gratifying rather than prestigious, and Lamb advised living below your means in order to be able to say yes to opportunities that truly make you happy.

I believe I went into the panel looking for advice on how and where to secure a job as soon as possible. But the panelists words of wisdom went a little bit deeper, and will certainly stay with me for longer. I recognize the challenge of breaking into an entry level position, but am hopeful that with time and patience, I will succeed. More importantly however, I am now thinking long term. I will absorb as much as I can wherever I go, including during my last few months at Lafayette. I will chase the jobs that excite me, and stay open minded. I know there’s a lot to do and a lot to learn, but I’m confident that I will embrace the challenge. 

By: Lara Henderson ’19