One Size Fits None: Alternative Career Paths Can Benefit You and the Wildlife Profession

ROOM: HCCC, Room 25C
Early career wildlife professionals are not one-size-fits-all. Many follow career paths that incorporate transitions into, out of, and alongside the profession at any and every stage of life. These career transitions are valuable to the wildlife profession, and to the advancement of wildlife conservation in our broader communities. They can increase diversity, catalyze the exchange of ideas between disparate disciplines, and foster more personal fulfillment. But to those who experience them, they can also feel more disheartening and overwhelming than adventuresome and serendipitous. This symposium addresses how to prepare for the possibility of a career shift and frame your experience to make the most of it. In our first session, colleagues who have undergone career transitions will speak about their challenges and opportunities, and the vital transferable skills they used along the way. In our second session, we will hear about the professor’s role in preparing students for professional success, whatever careers they choose. We will also learn from a professional financial writer, and wildlife graduate, on how to navigate unstable finances in the wildlife profession. We will then provide coaching advice and resources from a career transition consultant on the nuts and bolts of making a successful career shift. To wrap it up in our final session, our speakers’ panel discussion will be open for audience questions. This symposium is a must for anyone in a position to mentor those entering or leaving the wildlife profession, as well as for those considering a career transition, undergoing one currently, or who had yet to consider the possibility.

8:10AM From the Field to a Fork (In the Road): A Less-Traveled Path
  Cynthia G. Perrine
I followed a fairly standard approach in pursuing a career in the wildlife profession. Attended a 4-year university with a wildlife program, started working as a student assistant with California Department of Fish and Wildlife as a Junior, and pursued graduate school studying a hunting-related habitat question. I long envisioned a wildlife career collecting data in remote locations, backpacking for days at a time. Immersing in field studies and publishing manuscripts that would speak the science. I followed that plan until a work accident at age 24 left me with a serious back injury, which compromised my options for field studies. Making it through an injury and navigating worker’s compensation insurance and medical evaluations wasn’t the learning opportunity I sought in graduate school, but it presented a fork in the road that likely changed my career more than any class that I took. Labeled with a partial disability, I fought to remain in field appointments. In doing so I met a lot of human resources and administrative staff working in wildlife management organizations. I started to see the need for more scientists to be trained in people management techniques, administrative roles, and provide guidance to the entrepreneurial aspect of our scientific studies, knowing the science behind the business operation. When the opportunity presented itself, I took a program management job, was surprised by how much I enjoyed planning, and actually enjoyed people. I eventually drastically adjusted my career objectives and enrolled in a Master of Business Administration (MBA) Program. I see a demand for more scientists to be trained in management and leadership, and apply business theories to research and management.
8:30AM Deadlines and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!: the Trappings of a Career in Graphic Design
  Chad Pelton
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world,” wrote John Muir in 1912, and to some extent the same can be said about the modern American career. In my case, that one single thing was a brief career in wildlife research that ultimately led to a seemingly unrelated career in the arts. Although drastic career shifts of this sort are often characterized as “starting over,” a more positive outlook may be taken. Changes in life circumstances, beliefs, and goals happen to most, and the experiences gained while undertaking scientific research should be seen as relevant to many different career paths. This experience can help unite two seemingly dissimilar careers into a single well-rounded one. This presentation is a narrative of my experience in making a career shift from wildlife to the arts that draws from my own history of familial involvement in the field of wildlife research, photos, ephemera, work samples, and oral history with the goal of illustrating that one career path does not necessarily result in a specific end-result if one chooses to keep an open mind on the relevance of their skills to the larger world.
8:50AM A Varied Extroverted Journey: Fishhead to Furhead to Politician and Underwater Photographer
  Laura Tesler
Not all wildlife careers follow a linear path into research and management⋯and my own career has been far from linear. My degree is in Fisheries Science with a minor in soils and over the course of 24 years I have worked for two Federal agencies, and two State agencies. I have been a farm planner, an elected official (two terms), extroverted program manager, budget analyst, outreach specialist, empire builder, Divemaster, travel junkie, an award winning underwater photographer, and currently I am purchasing properties for wildlife habitat. I am the also the mother of a 17 year old son and I have been married for almost 30 years. Alternative career paths provide interesting perspectives, and make the wildlife profession stronger by providing different approaches to solving problems and managing complex issues.
9:10AM Naval Dispersal: Transitioning from Life on the High Seas to Working in the Trees
  Ryan Baumbusch
Ten years ago I embarked on a voyage into a new and unfamiliar world. Up to that point I had already traveled across much of the globe. Growing up in a military family I spent my childhood in Europe and on both coasts of America. Joining the Navy after high school took me across the other half of the planet, pulling into ports throughout Asia, Australia, and the Middle East. My new journey, however, was not to some remote and exotic destination; it was into a new stage of my life. At 25 years old the military was all I had known, but I knew that it was not what I wanted for the rest of my life. Deciding where to go after the military was a long and thoughtful process. Setting out to become a wildlife biologist was full of uncertainty and self-doubt, along with challenges both real and only perceived. There were also plenty of advantages and opportunities afforded to me from my service. While I thought I was leaving behind everything I had learned and developed over the past 6 years, the Navy did have a profound impact on shaping who I am and I don’t know that I would be where I am today without it. Come aboard as I sail through the story of my life, and how I went from running a nuclear reactor onboard an aircraft carrier to chasing owls in the woods.
9:30AM The Path Less Taken: From Technical Theatre to Wildlife Education
  Elizabeth Folta
For some people it is not easy or obvious deciding what to do for a career. While for others, they know their entire lives what their life’s mission is. My career path was the former — from technical theatre, to veterinary technician, to interpretive park ranger, to wildlife educator, to college professor, to wildlife education manager. However, I feel I have ended up where I was meant to be. I just did not take the straightest or the easiest path to get here. But this path has taught me a lot along the way, and I learned many skills that many wildlife professionals may not get with a degree in wildlife science or similar major. Each field has given me skills that are useful in my current position. For example, stage management taught me communication skills, project management, leadership, and teamwork. These are all skills that you need in most jobs. One of the biggest things I learned along the way was to not let rejection dictate my fate. People are going to say no. You are not going to get every job you apply for, but take these as learning experiences, and stand up for yourself. Some supervisors make assumptions and even stereotype applicants based on their own experiences. It can be challenging to overcome these assumptions. More than once I have had to prove myself, get further education, or take a different path to get where I wanted to go. Today, I am the Curator of Education at the North Carolina Zoo. The responsibilities of this position are just as diverse as my path getting here. I oversee educational programming and messaging, the animal ambassador collection, assist with the zoo’s conservation work in Uganda, and work with partners developing virtual and augmented reality experiences for our guests.
09:50AM Break
12:50PM Discovering My True Nature, my ideal plan for a meaningful life
  Jason Hanlon
“Discovering My True Nature” My ideal plan for a meaningful life I believe everyone has a remarkable story and they are all unique, but this one is mine. For most of my life I felt like I did not belong. It mattered little where I was or what I was doing. My heart just always ached. It ached because I was not living a life suited to my true self. I experienced abuse as a young child and from that point forward it seemed like I had to climb one mountain after the next just to find something meaningful. Unfortunately, the experiences I found meaningful where also quite destructive. For many years I was addicted to one substance or another, invested in a career I was not passionate about, living in a place I didn’t want to live, in and out of jail, homeless for a time, and just plain lost in the world. I was just settling for the simpler easier path. So, my greatest adventure started nearly 12 years ago when I was 29 years old. My father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I made the decision to take care of him. At this time, I decide to put my first career on hold, all the while knowing in my heart I would not return. And at the same time, not knowing where I was going. It seems poetic, but I think this is how the greatest adventures always begin. Little did I know that 12 years later I would be living a meaningful life. This is the story of how I found my career in conservation, how my choices shaped my passions, and how my experiences helped me learn about life. And best of all, I am still learning.
1:10PM Educating for resilience: a new role for policy in natural resources programs
  Perry S. Barboza
College programs in wildlife and fisheries were founded on biophysical science and mathematics to develop the knowledge and skills required by employees of public agencies to manage animals and their habitats. In the last two decades, programs incorporated courses in social science to prepare students to address the expectations and needs of stakeholders. We are now beginning to incorporate courses that prepare students to interpret information for policy (planning), politics (decision making) and law (regulation). However, most graduates from baccalaureate programs in biology, environmental and agricultural sciences find employment outside their discipline. Only 7% of these graduates find employment in life sciences and agriculture but many more are employed in health care (30%), management (13%) and education (11%; US Census Bureau 2014). This pattern Is likely to continue because projected demand (2016 – 2026) for wildlife, environmental and life scientists (8 – 11%) is less than that of either post-secondary teachers (15%) or human and animal health professions (19 -24%) (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018). Transferable skills in communication and critical thinking are most valued by graduates of wildlife and fisheries programs who have entered the workforce. Courses that engage students in social and ecological issues can develop these transferrable skills by strengthening their knowledge of animals and habitats while developing their ability to create and communicate practical solutions to specialists and stakeholders as well as the general public and their representatives. We are now trying to graduate students who can: identify ecological, economic and regulatory drivers for systems concerning fish and wildlife; organize and synthesize information on these drivers and; explain those syntheses to multiple audiences. These new programs can prepare resilient graduates that are able to use their skills broadly not only as professionals in a variety of occupations but also as informed private citizens.
1:30PM The Missing Guide to Your Money: Navigating Rocky Transitions Into, Through, and Out of Wildlife Professions
  Lindsay VanSomeren
Navigating through a wildlife career requires facing a unique set of personal financial challenges that are often not addressed. Jobs can be difficult to find, low- or no-paying, require frequent moves across the country, and be of variable lengths, among other challenges. For this reason it’s common for people to cycle in and out of wildlife professions, which can also bring yet even more financial challenges. As wildlife professionals, we are fantastic planners and managers while on the job, yet we often fail to apply that same level of concern to our personal finances. By neglecting this area we may harm our own career prospects; for example, if we take on too much debt or don’t budget our money properly, we may not be free to accept a good but low-paying position. The good news is that personal financial planning doesn’t have to be rocket science. The basics of good money management are simple: spend less than you earn, budget consistently, pay off debt, and save for emergencies, retirement, and other personal financial goals. For wildlife professionals, it’s also important to create backup career plans that you can easily shift to in the event of a job loss or transition. With these tips, anyone at any stage of their career can create a basic personal money management plan so that they can afford to work in their chosen profession—whatever that may be.
1:50PM Gearing Up for a Career Change
  Cathy Posner
Do you have a champion, a truth-teller, a financial coach and an editor in your corner? Transferable skills, keywords, brand management…what does it all mean? Are you unsure of whether to utilize a CV or resume for positions? Do you have a resume but don’t feel like it represents you or tells the most compelling story? Are your talking points and materials representing your new “brand” and your intention for a career change into another industry? Find out about all the people and the most up-to-date resources you need to make a successful career transition. Get tips on formulating your new brand, cross-industry networking, and how to move forward when your pursuit looks like a dead-end. You’re welcome to bring a laptop or tablet as LinkedIn will be briefly discussed.
2:30PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM Panel Discussion

Organizers: Kris Boyd, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Coeur d’Alene, ID; Emily Williams, National Park Service, Denali, AK; Lindsay VanSomeren, FiSci Media, LLC, Ft. Collins, CO
Supported by: Early Career Professionals Working Group; Ethnic and Gender Diversity Working Group

Location: Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland Date: October 8, 2018 Time: 8:10 am - 5:00 pm