by Brandon Peoples
Did your high school counselor have any good tips for you when you said you wanted to be a fish biologist? Probably not. In this week’s post, I clarify a few misconceptions you may have about what you’ll encounter in the next few years.
If you want to be successful, here are four things you need to “get”:
Get ready for math. Few of us get into natural resource science simply because we enjoy math. Most of us just want to be outside, on a boat or in the creek doing field work. Believe me, there will be plenty of that…but fisheries science is way more interesting than ‘just being outside’.
Learning solid field methods is critical, but all that time on the water won’t mean anything unless you know how to analyze your data. And trust me—once all those number actually mean something, you’ll enjoy it much more. Statistics are one of scientists’ most powerful tools. Without stats, we can’t do our jobs.
Get a job. In the next few years, you’ll take classes from some of the top minds in your field. But no class can give you the full breadth of information or experience in a subject. Much of your education will happen completely outside of coursework by working side-by-side with professionals.
This is an exciting time for you! Take those summer technician jobs and figure out what you enjoy. More importantly, figure out what you don’t enjoy. That 10-week summer internship with the state DNR may not pay as much as living back with your parents and mowing lawns, but it will absolutely pay off on your résumé four years from now.
Get a mentor. Mentors in our field come in many forms, but they all have two things in common: they have more experience than you do, and they can help you tremendously.
Sometimes a mentor is a professor who will help you plan your classes and write a reference for your job search. Sometimes a mentor is a sophomore who was in your situation a year ago. Sometimes a mentor is your summertime employer who you met at an AFS meeting. Regardless, don’t let yourself get dragged down by being too proud or nervous to ask for help!
Get ready to move. One major reality of our field is that we often have to move around to find the right opportunities. You may be able to find summer work experiences in your own neck of the woods. But there’s a much slimmer chance of finding the right graduate school or professional position right near home.
Don’t limit yourself by restricting your possibilities to within a 50-mile radius of home. Get out. Explore. Go somewhere new. You may just find it’s where you belong…and you’ll definitely be better for the experience. And if it’s your goal to get back to your hometown/state/continent, keep an eye out for jobs in the area. Maybe you’ll come back to manage the resources that attracted you to the profession in the first place!
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