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An Early Start to Job Searching: Skills, skills, skills…

This is a bit early, as I’m not quite seriously hunting for a job at this moment.  However, the prospect of job hunting is definitely looming over me. With that in mind, it’s a good time to take stock of not just what I’ve learned over the past couple of years and, but what kinds of skills or abilities I’ve acquired as well.

To me, skills, rather than just factual information, are one of the most important things for a student to consider if they plan on heading out to the job market eventually.  From my perspective, while a great deal of information or content about a given topic can be learned relatively quickly, skills—whether more general ones like communication (written and oral) or project management, or  more technical ones like geographic information systems (GIS) or life cycle analysis (LCA)—are the kinds of things which are sought after by employers.  This type of “functional knowledge” can often be transferable across projects or disciplines. For example, you can use GIS to help plan urban growth, model runoff routes through a watershed, or track increased environmental risk among demographic groups.

Of course, the distinction I’m making here is a fine one. “Skill” is an imperfect term, but the most appropriate one I have come to after searching the thesaurus. In some instances, the skill cannot be separated from the content. Mathematical disciplines like calculus might be one example. We cannot discount the significance of factual information, either. Nonetheless, I would suggest that to make a good gauge of our actual skills, as environmental studies students, is important.

Looking back through my undergraduate degree (where I majored in International Relations), I was able to gain a number of skills like integrated or holistic thinking, critical analysis and research experience.  Through part-time jobs, summer internships, and terms abroad, I was able to learn to speak another language (French), eventually producing a detailed comparative analysis report in the language for my employer. I was also able to hone my writing and editing experience in different contexts by freelancing for a variety of publications, such as my undergraduate student newspaper, and various trade publications in my hometown.

For my master’s degree, I wanted to not only continue to enhance these skills, but gain some other ones which might be valuable to future employers. To that end, I upped my oral communication skills considerably, attending a presentations skills workshop, and forcing myself to take any and all opportunities to speak in front of audiences. My critical analysis and written communication skills were also made more effective through the constant discussion and analysis provoked both in and outside of class with peers and faculty, as well as experience in writing effective literature reviews, policy analysis, and grant and research proposals. Finally, I  learned about how to make, conduct, and analyse a survey, which requires both qualitative and quantitative research skills.

In sum, I’ve gained a lot from this degree.  While I think that any environmental studies program which teaches students about the importance of living within Earth’s limits is effective, I’d also urge students to think about what kinds of skills they would like to gain from the process. Don’t just think about strengths, but weaknesses as well. Being in school full-time is one of the last times many of us will be able to devote such a large portion of our lives to the acquisition of knowledge and skills and I would encourage all to take full advantage!


Darlene Seto is pursuing her master’s degree at the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia. A keen student of environment policy and governance, her current graduate work revolves around diversity and engagement in alternative food systems.

Posted on: January 19, 2012, 6:00 am Category: The Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: ,

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