Sooner or later - most likely later - what feels like spring will arrive. Just looking at the calendar makes that a pretty safe prediction, but I also know that spring is getting closer because of a bump in the volume of calls I get from students and parents looking for guidance and insight on a successful career outdoors field.
I’ve never second-guessed my career choice, and few things make me happier than to hear how excitement in the voices of prospective students or college graduate about to embark on a similar career path. But most parents have questions about putting together the best game plan for success. Whether the student is still in high school or is about to graduate from college, there are many ideas to consider.
A high school student should keep his or her options as wide open as the prairie sky. A specific goal, such as becoming a game warden or researching bighorn sheep is a good initial step, but flexibility is also important.
Twenty years ago when I graduated from high school, I could not have envisioned that part of my work life would involve producing outdoors information. Along the way I’ve banded geese, arrested poachers, battled mountain wildfires and worked with landowners on improving habitat.
Contrary to what you might assume, highly developed skills as an angler or hunter are not a prerequisite to a wildlife-related career, but frequent participation plus an in-depth knowledge of biology and management strategies would help anyone relate to the hunting and fishing public. The most important factor is a genuine interest in and love for the outdoors, a standard shared by most of my coworkers.
Not every North Dakota college has a degree program specific to the outdoors or wildlife or fisheries field. In this day and age, it's pretty easy to research schools to determine which one provides the best fit.
Most college graduates assume a competitive job market in the natural resources field. That has always been the case and it likely will remain that way well into the future. Job experience can set students apart, and a willingness to spend summers working for a natural resources agency, regardless of the school, is a big plus when finally comes to applying for that first job. I spent my first summer after high school as a volunteer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A $10 day stipend didn't go far even in 1990, but beyond the money, the experience established a solid foundation for the future.
Even with five summers of field experience, after college graduation it was four months of intense hunting until I landed a steady job, and many would say I was lucky. If you graduate without much work experience, my suggestion is similar to what I’d tell a recent high school graduate eyeing a career a decade down the road: don't pass anything up, or become excessively selective. Networking and persistence, along with experience, may be the key to success.
Graduate school is also an option. If research or a highly specialized career is a goal, obtaining a masters or other advanced degree may be in order.
While in college I enjoyed working side by side with others who had similar goals. Some are coworkers yet today, while others for differing reasons moved on to different career paths. I can reassure students, and parents, that few people regret choosing natural resources as a career, and that in itself speaks volumes for the vocation.
Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org