I was recently told that my blog is reaching several young scientists ranging anywhere from middle school students all the way to undergraduate. Welcome aboard! This post is for you and meant to both warn you about the life of a fisheries ecologist but also get you excited by how cool my job is.
The inspiration for this post was a trending hashtag on Twitter last week. When I saw #WhenIWas12IThought I took a moment to think back to my middle school self. I was a B student, hated science, and thought for sure I would become a medical doctor. While I looked forward to lazy Sundays fishing with my grandfather, I thought fish were gross and certainly not something you would (or should) ever devote a career to studying.
And here I am today, devoting my entire life to studying fish.
What changed? Honestly, a series of random events. I wanted to take an Advanced Placement class senior year of high school and Environmental Science seemed like the easiest option. I didn’t realize it until later, but that was the first class I took that I actually enjoyed. As a freshman in college I was randomly placed into another environmental studies class that focused on streams. Having now spent nearly 20 years in school, I can faithfully say that class was the hardest I will ever take and made me question weekly if I was smart enough for college. At the same time, I loved everything about it including long days in the cold rain collecting data and even longer nights in the library trying to write research papers for a professor with exceedingly high expectations. I then needed a summer job, and that same professor was willing to pay me to research trout behavior. I call this my “Monopoly moment.” From there I passed go, collected $200 (not really that far from the truth...fish research pays very little), and have been running laps around the game board ever sense (and even managed to stay out of jail).
The moral of my story is that career paths don’t need to be straight and paved. That’s probably not new advice. And, there are a lot of articles giving more great pointers about how to get a job in the field after you graduate college- volunteer at various organizations, do undergraduate research, and network with professionals in the field, etc. While I could reiterate all of those points, they won’t help you decide whether fisheries science is actually a good fit for you. For that, I have a few points of advice:
Another way to develop communication skills is by presenting an oral or poster presentation at a conference. You can usually get conferences paid for by your advisor, so these are actually like free vacations. Here I am standing at my poster at the American Fisheries Society meeting in Portland Oregon.
So, bottom line, the old adage has a lot of truth- if you pick a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.