February 3, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
Carleton College class of 2020 Biology major
Fin Ouweleen: Regarding trends in the job market, in my field and in others, I think there's just less jobs and more applicants across the board, because of the virus. I'm guessing it won't get back to normal until a few years, because it takes awhile for funding to build back up and there's so many jobless people that competition for the fewer positions there are will be more intense for a while.
Fin Ouweleen: Regarding technical skills, for the positions I applied for in field biology, most jobs were looking for people that had the most experience specifically for that job, making it hard for someone without that experience to find an entry point into the field. It definitely gives someone an edge if they have writing skills and know some knowledge of coding languages, data sheets, and other software like ArcGIS.
Fin Ouweleen: Having been someone that's looked for so long for a job out of college, I would say that really any paying job or any jobs where you can gain experience, even if it's barely in your field, is an okay place to start these days. Had the virus not arisen, I probably would not have gone the direction of wildlife rehabilitation (which is what I'm hired for now) just because I wanted to focus more on research and conservation, but it's so hard to get a position anywhere, so any job opportunity is valuable.
: Challenges are entering the zoo and aquarium field in the COVID era. A good majority of zoos and aquariums have felt the impact of lower attendance, which has led to lower revenues and fewer available positions. However, there is reason to be optimistic. Animals at zoos and aquariums still must be fed and looked after. Recent graduates should look to internships and volunteer experiences to bolster their resumes if they truly are committed to entering the field.
Laura Huenneke: These scientists need skills in designing studies and data collection (from field studies to synthesis of existing data to population modeling and forecasts). They also must be able to communicate results (and the potential limitations or uncertainties) to stakeholders and communities, both verbally and graphically. If you don't or can't communicate your results, you haven't been doing science!
Laura Huenneke: Many places in the U.S. are coping with rapid changes in the relationship between natural resources, recent land-use patterns, and regional economies. Examples include much of the western U.S. where logging, oil and gas development, and ranching are being overtaken by recreational use and suburban development as major economic activities; and areas along the southeastern coasts where the sea-level rise and pollution concerns threaten communities and fisheries. Those prepared to work with wildlife and fish populations will have much to contribute to these settings.
Laura Huenneke: Technology is bringing "big data" approaches to these fields, as it is elsewhere. Drone technology and remote sensing can reduce the time involved in data collection but requires more informatics and analysis for processing and interpreting results. Genetics approaches (e.g., the ability to use "environmental DNA" to detect rare fish in a stream or rare bats in a cave) are transforming sampling. Zoologists must keep up with these new technologies or have a collaborative mindset to team with others.
Emeritus Scientist, U.S. Forest Service
Richard Pouyat: Besides developing your expertise in wildlife ecology, it is the ability to communicate with the public and other professionals regarding your knowledge area (in this case, wildlife ecology or related field). Related to this is the development of your "EQ" or emotional quotient (a measure of emotional intelligence), which is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways, to communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict. As we can see with recent political developments, science is not being taken seriously by much of the public, which, in my opinion, is a direct result of the public's lack of trust in scientists or the users of science (e.g., conservation managers). Obviously, there are not any courses one can take to develop your EQ, so this must be done on an individual basis. One way to accomplish this would be to choose an issue in your community that they care about and get involved. In this way, the student will get experience working with a diversity of perspectives on an issue. My wife, who is a Career Consultant, gives this advice to all of her students.
Richard Pouyat: I suggest getting experience (not necessarily a job) working with communities on a local conservation issue. These types of experiences will give you an edge over others in finding a position in wildlife ecology. Another way to get an edge would be to consider being certified as an ecologist through the Ecological Society of America (ESA). Please visit ESA's website for information. As for finding positions in the field, there are opportunities that range from the private sector (consulting firms) to government positions to non-government organization (NGO) positions. A good place to start would be visiting ESA's website, which provides listings of positions in the field. The best way to find out about potential jobs or volunteer opportunities is to discover opportunities through personal interactions at local, state, and national meetings related to your field. That is how I found out about my first job after graduating with my M.S. degree. Again, ESA is a good place to do this with the annual meeting (every August) and Chapter regional meetings (again, refer to the website for opportunities). Finally, you can proactively find out about jobs by asking professionals in the field for their advice! One does this through "informational interviews." Again, something my wife advocates with her students. Most professionals in the field are more than happy to discuss opportunities in their organizations with students. When seeking advice, please respect the fact that these individuals are often extremely busy and that you should first contact them and see if they would be interested and then follow that up with a request to set up a meeting (now, probably virtual). And when you go, be prepared!
Richard Pouyat: Well, being in an age bracket that is "pre-social" media, I cannot be much help there. However, I can vouch for a couple of skills you should consider developing with the onset of the pandemic. One would be developing creative presentations using visualization techniques to present data/complex information in virtual meeting formats (such as Zoom). This may very well be the future for various scientific meetings. As for science-related impact, the use and understanding of GIS cannot be understated. Many tools being developed for conservation managers are GIS-based.