Career Strategies Introduction

A fork in the road
"Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established." -Proverbs 4:26

"Not enough emphasis in the past has been placed on what students should be doing now, before a student even declares a major and decides what and where they want to go in life, but they have been ignored or put off until it is practically too late. Your senior year or last semester is way too late to be asking this stuff. And if you don't ask it now, you are going to end up [doing other jobs], but you won't end up [getting] a wildlife job."
  -Tom Smith, Wildlife professor
This section will hopefully open your mind and your understanding to what you should be doing now and throughout your four year university experience to further your educational and career goals no matter what major you have chosen. The end goal here would be to better propel you toward a very rewarding career.

Things to Consider

Before you decide what major you want to do and the eventual route of your career, there are four simple questions you may want to ponder:

1. Where do you want to live?
Where people eventually settle down in a career is determined by several factors: family, climate, their spouse, company location, economics. Some of these are more important to professionals then others. What you need to think about is which one(s) is more important to you. To some people, where they live is vital, but to others it is not. But what would you say?

2. Where do you want to go to school?
Your choice of graduate schools can have a potential effect on your choice of major and even where you want to live. If you want to go to Harvard, you probably don’t want to study soils. Also, at what school you go to can have an effect on what you study. For instance, if you study plants, you might focus more on desert species at the University of Arizona then you would at Oregon State University.

3. How much do you want to make?
Money may or may not be an important factor in whether somebody chooses a career or even a certain job within that career. What tradeoffs are you willing to make in order to make what you want? Do you want a lot of money even if you hate an aspect of what you do, or will you settle for less so you can do what you want to do? To some people, monetary comfort and greater financial security are more important than an enjoyable career. What is more important to you, though?

4. What do you really want to do?
This is the obvious last step to figuring your major out. Once you have made up your mind on what is important to you in questions 1-3, decide on a major, your eventual career path, and your specific field field of study. This field of study could be what type of animal, plant, gene, or etc. that you specifically want to focus on and become an expert at. Now, go through each of your decisions with those things in mind and see if it all fits into your scheme. If not, you may have to change your major, career, career focus,or you may have to reanalyze your responses to questions 1-3.

The last thought we would leave with you comes from Jacob 6:12-
"O be wise, what can I say more?"

The decisions you make now will affect the rest of your life, for good or ill. So do as Jacob said and be wise in what you decide to do.
Many students are heard to say every now and then, “what other thing can I do or should I be doing outside of my school work?” This is a valid and honorable question.  The following three things will help give you an idea of what many of the professors in the department have suggested students should be doing and be a viable part of.

Activities outside of class

Only a part of students learning may come from formal classroom instruction, but the rest of it comes from life experiences, associations with other students, mentored research, and hard work.  Along with seasonal employment, extracurricular activities are a good method to diversify and broaden your education.  Most PWS faculty members strongly encourage students to augment their formal classroom education with additional activities that actually bring the classroom to life.

The following list was collected from PWS faculty members and represents potentially broadening experiences that students may enjoy before they graduate with a bachelors.
  • Clubs (Environmental Science, Ecoresponse, Genetics and Biotechnology, Landscape, Pre-med, Wildlife and Range, etc.)
  • Professional organizations  and Meetings (American Society of Plant Pathologists, Green Industry Conference, Society for Range Management, Student Career Days, The Wildlife Society, etc.)
  • Service Activities outside of major (Hospitals, Red Cross, In the community, On campus)
  • Volunteering within major (Job shadowing, work for free)
  • Internships
  • Mentorships
  • Field Trips
  • Student Competition Teams (Plant ID Team, Undergraduate Range Management Examination)
  • International experience
  • Get a hobby
  • Exercise
  • Go to Seminars and Symposiums (ask questions)
  • Read and Write
  • Stay up on Current Events
  • Read the Literature
  • Get to know the world
  • Take aptitude tests
  • Try out different classes
  • Make friends with peers in major (networking)
  • Become a leader
These are not in order of importance and not all of them can be done at once, but they are all recommended.  Some will help you figure out if one of these majors is really for you; others will help you learn skills that are needed to succeed; and the rest will help you get the diversity that you probably should have and that many employers and schools are looking for in employees and students.

Seasonal Employment

Seasonal employment, just like extracurricular activities, it a major contributor to gaining experience.  It is different in that you are getting paid to apply your skills that you have learned while in school and in other activities.  This is more important in some majors over others because of the differences in the definition between an internship and a seasonal job.  In reality, in one, the student is paid and the in the other the student receives credit.  Other than that, both students are receiving experience for their time.


Hands of God and Adam
Making contacts or networking during your university experience will help you further your post graduate plans.  There are two different ways to network and both depend on what you plan on doing after you graduate.  The first one is how you network to find a job, and the second is how you network to gain entrance into a program of higher education.

a. For jobs- To network here effectively, interning with or working for companies or an agency during the school year or over the summer is preferable.  These experiences give you an opportunity to meet others in the company that can hire you full time and lets you show off your skills.  You can also volunteer with them or present research at professional societies where these companies may be present.  The ultimate goal here is to get a job soon after you graduate.

b. For higher education- Making contacts here can be totally different.  The goal here is to make connections that can get you into your school of choice and for some majors, a research project to work on.  The best people to “get friendly with” would be professors in our department.  They have their own research projects that you may be able to jump in on or they may know other professionals or professors that you could make contact with and get to know better.  Besides that, if you get to know each other well enough, they could write letters of recommendation to professors or schools to which you are applying.

Whatever your purpose for networking, it can help you succeed in what you want to do.  “Remember, networking is simply forming new friendships with your career/profession as the initial basis of the relationship. It is not begging people for a job.  Thus, the sooner you start this process, the easier it will be,” (The Daily Universe).
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Career Strategies Introduction

Students at graduation
According to Phil Agre, an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, graduate school is for people who enjoy research, teaching, and the overall atmosphere of school. People go to graduate school for many reasons. For some, they enjoy the position of control they have over their career and the opportunity to help change the world, as Agre says, that comes with an advanced degree. Some people seek higher education to better provide for their families and their children’s future. No matter how worthy a goal this it, it should not be the only reason for applying to graduate school.

One thing to know about graduate school is how long it will take. It can take up to eight years to finish your doctoral degree! That is a long time to spend in school, especially if you don’t like school work. One of the only ways to pull yourself through all the drudgery and stress is to really enjoy what you are studying and eventually plan on doing in your career.

When you are part of a graduate program, unlike your undergraduate studies, you will develop stronger relationships with those you work with (faculty, students, and other professionals) and you will more acutely define your “professional identity,” as Agre says. “You will become known as the person who wrote such-and-such a paper, who did such-and-such research, who refuted such-and-such theory, or who initiated such-and-such line of inquiry.” These are not little things. This type of identity can solidify your career and potential in the professional world or ruin it before it even starts. That is why you must understand what you will be getting into so you can wholly commit yourself to your work. Only then will you make the impression that you are seeking for.

(For the full article, “Advice for Undergraduates Considering Graduate School,” 1996, click on the following link) Phil Agre

What is it like?

Graduate school is not any easier then undergraduate programs; in fact, it requires a whole lot more work. The differences between the work you do as an undergraduate and the work you do as a graduate student is where you do it at, and where the motivation comes from to get it done. You can probably all agree that if your teacher gave you the option not to do an assignment and your grade would not suffer because of it, you would probably wouldn’t even think twice about whether you should do it or not. In opposition to that attitude, a graduate student must discipline themselves to do and finish their work, because there is no teacher telling them to do something. If they don’t do the work and the research, their grade and their degree will fail.

The second thing that separates these two degree programs at most universities, according to John Koprowski, a professor at the University of Arizona, is where the main learning takes place. A graduate student spends most of their time working on a research project. This research is may be supplemented by classes that help “round out the background, required to increase technical proficiency, or to make up for deficiencies in the [graduate students] undergraduate academic record.” Other then that, research is the main goal and emphasis for graduate programs, which helps them experience first hand what they have been learning throughout their undergraduate career.

Another difference that Koprowski mentions is how much enthusiasm graduate students must have for their research project. He says that even “summer breaks in the academic schedule are typically viewed not as vacation periods but as opportunities for intensive research.”

(Go to John Koprowski’s home page to learn more on this subject under the “Graduate School Information” link)

Is the life sciences degree for me?

Knowing what graduate school is like in the life sciences, can you with certainty say that this really is the way for you? Pennsylvania State University produced an in house document for The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences that states a couple of questions that can help them know whether the life sciences graduate program is for them (administered at Purdue University Graduate School). Most of these questions focus on what interests you, what do you talk about in your spare time, do you like to discover new things, can you accept disappointment, are you a team player and can you work alone, and other such topic. It would be worth your time to look through the document to find out for yourself if being a life sciences graduate student is really a hat you want to wear.

(Click on the first link to see the document or to contact the Purdue University directly, visit the second link )
Questions - go to the second page
Purdue Gradexpo - Tips for…Graduate School interviews is the link that you want

What is the difference between a master’s degree, PHD, and professional school?

A master’s degree is just a step above bachelors. The only difference between the two is the requirement for a thesis. A thesis is the results of original research that is required to obtain a master’s degree. What do you think about when you think of a “master’s degree”? The whole point is to master the concepts that were taught you as an undergraduate. Now, compare this to a doctoral degree in physiology. This is the next step up after you obtain your master’s degree. Just like a thesis, that is required for your for your master’s, a dissertation is required for your doctoral degree. Doctoral students take learning one degree further then a master. Once you have mastered your subject, you will learn how to teach it to others. This is the definition of a doctor, or specifically a “teacher”. To become a professor at a university, you must obtain your teacher’s or doctoral degree.

A professional school degree is essentially the same thing as a doctoral degree, but is applied toward professional careers or field (such as medicine, law, etc.). Research is not the main focus of these schools, learning your field is. To differenciate the two, somebody might seek a PhD to research new medications. Another might attend medical school to learn when, who, and how to apply those medicines. That is the difference: one does the research, the other gets the credit.

Which School Should I Choose?

There are three tips that you might want to consider before choosing which school, program, or advisor you will choose for your graduate studies:

1. “Ask your favorite undergraduate professor, the one who knows you best, to recommend graduate schools; also ask about schools to stay away from. Then listen to his/her advice.”

This is the best starting place to find the best graduate school information. Most of your professors have an extensive network within their field of study. This network came from many years in graduate school themselves, working with other professionals, and keeping in contact with old associates. Because of all this experience, they can recommend great advisors and schools and also which ones to stay away from.

2. “If your undergraduate professors are suggesting that you stay with them, seriously consider it.”

Working with an advisor you know can make a big difference in your graduate studies. When a professor that you know suggests that you do studies with them, that means that you have already earned their trust and have opened doors that may be closed with unfamiliar advisors. Besides already knowing your professor, you already know the schools environment, policies and procedures, and can move quickly into your studies instead of spending the first months of school getting to know it.

3. “Pick the people, not the school.”

Even though going to a good school, a less expensive school, or a school in a great location drives many students graduate school decisions, you should also consider the people you will be working with throughout your degree. These include professors, department and college personnel, your department chair, and your dean. These people hold the power in their hands to help make graduate school and one in a life time experience or misery beyond compare. They need to know what they are doing, when to get things done, and they need to know how to relax and have fun every once and a while. These are the basics; if the program you have chosen doesn’t fit these, then find one that will suit you.

(Go to the following page for the full text) Graduate Tips

How to apply

There is one simple answer to this: you just do it. What we really want to understand is what you need to do to prepare yourself for application and acceptance into graduate school. Some of the following suggestions have been pulled from Professor John Koprowski’s graduate school page.

1. Find out what your options are- Talk to professors well before your senior year. Ask about what they are studying and what others professionals are studying that might interest you. You may even want to search the internet and journals for professionals and subjects that catch your interest. These sources have the potential to become your future research project.

2. Prepare for and take the GRE or the equivalent graduate school entrance test for your field (e.g. LSAT, MCAT, etc.)- Take this exam early to allow time for the results to come back before you apply to your preferred graduate schools.

3. Send out letters of interest to potential assistantship advisors- Make connection with these advisors early so that you have time to build an adequate relationship with them. This will put your application before other applicants when the time comes to apply.

4. Figure out how to pay for graduate school- This can be done with the help of university financial aid or career services.

5. Apply for graduate school- After you have sent off your application, make sure you “tactfully” keep in touch with those advisors or academic programs until you find out who has accepted you.

Of course, there are ways to increase your competitiveness to get into graduate school. Koprowski mentions some of these on his page. You can find some career suggestions under the Career Strategies section of this site.

Life Science Opportunities

The Plant and Wildlife Sciences Department offers 4 graduate degree: Masters in Agronomy, Masters in Genetics and Biotechnology, and a Masters and Doctorate program in Wildlife and Wildlands Conservation. Information about these graduate program can be found at the following link under "Graduate Catelogs":

Graduate Catelogs - Look in the index for the department of "Plant and Wildlife Sciences".
For more information, visit: BYU Graduate Studies page
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