Looking for direction

Doug Leier

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As school years descend ever so gradually toward spring and summer vacation, a new crop of seniors begin a transition toward the next step in life.

High school seniors are anxiously awaiting graduation and many have their fall college or work plans in place, while others are making last-minute visits to find which situation fits best.

Graduating college students are days from ceremonies and planning the next step -graduate school, a first job, or assessing whether it's better to snap up the first offer remotely related to their field, or wait for a better opportunity.

Their is no set answer or guarantee for these questions. But for anyone looking toward a career in the outdoors, I can offer a bit of general insight and advice. For high school graduates, I'm a firm believer that you can't go wrong with a university or college in the Midwest if your long-term goal is a career in the natural resources management field.

The University of North Dakota, North Dakota State and Valley City State have four-year wildlife management programs, while Minot State University-Bottineau has a two year program. In addition, several other four-year colleges offer biology degrees. The degree isn't nearly as weighted as the work experience gained during summers while you are in college. A four-year degree is minimum requirement for the majority of entry level positions, but there is typically competition from those with advanced degrees, extensive work experience, and sometimes both.

It's a good idea to keep options open. For instance, there's no need focus on one particular job, like, say, a North Dakota bighorn sheep biologist. As it stands, the State Game and Fish Department only has one, and by aspiring to one particular job you may be setting yourself up for failure.

In most cases, broad study will open up more options. It could turn out that a career in the natural resources field goes from first choice to second. I have a good friend who has spent a couple of decades in the education system, but still is involved in the outdoors by working summers as a temporary employee at a wetland management district. Better to have a well-rounded education in biology, wildlife and fisheries management through your under graduate work, than to box yourself into a career without as much latitude.

During college, summer vacation is an important link to future job opportunities. Finding work and/or volunteer experience that relates to your career is vital. Whether its gathering data in the field for a professor or helping with lab work, you may not make as much money as some other options, but the trade-off may come years later ahead when the work experience shows a willingness to try new and sometimes not-so-fun options.

While times have changed since the early 1990s when I attended college, the competition then and now is extremely high and it's unrealistic to expect that you’ll be able to pick and choose where and what you'll do. Many college graduates take “stepping stone” jobs that are a little bit out of their preferred realm.

Finally, I'd suggest that anyone with questions should call or stop by an office and visit with a fisheries biologist, wildlife manager or game warden. Most are more than happy to visit, and the information could help put in perspective just what a career in wildlife or natural resources management is all about.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: dleier@nd.gov

Posted by Doug Leier under Field Journals on March 25, 09 09:42 AM | Permalink

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