By Florence Sullivan, MSc (GEMM Lab alumni, 2017)
Frustrating. Exhausting. Time-consuming. Repetitive. Draining. De-Motivating. A sine wave of cautious excitement followed by the crash of disappointment at another rejection. The longer my job search continues, the more adjectives I have to describe it.
Last spring, I got rejected from a marine mammal and bird survey technician position because I didn’t have enough experience identifying birds. I found this immensely frustrating. So, fueled by the desire to prove “them” wrong, I embarked on my journey of revenge. First, I registered for a free online bird ID course at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Then, I got my bird books out, and started paying more attention to the species I encountered in my neighborhood. Next, I attended a training session for the Puget Sound Seabird Survey with the Seattle Audubon Society, and joined a citizen science monitoring team. We are responsible for documenting seabird habitat use at 3 beaches in the South Puget Sound on the first Saturday of each month. Most of my team members have been birding for decades, and they have been helpfully pointing out ID tricks like flight patterns, wing shapes, and color bands to distinguish one species from another. I feel like my marine bird ID is coming along nicely, but there are SO MANY bird species out there…. I know I learn better, and am more focused, when I am working for a team effort, so two weeks ago I attended a training for the Secretive Wetland Bird Monitoring project with the Puget Sound Bird Observatory. We’ll be doing playback surveys for species like American Bittern, Virginia Rail, and Green Herons during three survey windows from April to June. I’m excited for this project because even if I don’t learn to ID the birds by sight (they are secretive after all), it’s a chance to improve my ‘birding by ear’ skills! With all this, I think the next time a job application asks about my experience with birds, I’ll be able to give some more informed answers.
In Summer 2018, I had a rather tumultuous field research experience with a very disorganized project leader. I ended up leaving the project after a series of poor safety choices by the leadership culminated in the vessel running aground on a well-marked reef. Several of my colleagues and I were injured in the accident, and it was the first time in my 10 year maritime career that I grabbed my emergency bag and seriously thought I might have to abandon ship. In this case, we made it to shore, and there was a clinic nearby where we got treated, but what if there hadn’t been? The more I reflected on what happened, the more I realized how bad the situation could have been. My revenge on that feeling of helplessness was to sign up for a NOLS Wilderness First Aid Course. During the course, we practiced patient assessment, discussed the most common injuries when adventuring in the remote areas, and played out scenarios, as both patients and first responders. We discussed proper scene assessment, basic wound care and splints (those were fun to practice), situations like hypo and hyperthermia, and how to make a radio call for help that transmits the most relevant information. After this two day course, I feel much more confident in my ability to manage emergency situations for myself and any team I work with. Handily enough, many field technician jobs list ‘Wilderness First Aid/Wilderness First Responder” in their desired qualifications sections, so I can check that bullet off now too!
One of the best bits of finishing my grad degree has been getting my evenings and weekends back from the depths of homework and research fueled need-to-be-productive-all-the-time depression. I like making things. Shortly after turning in my thesis, I traded labor for a sheep fleece & two alpaca fleeces.
An acquaintance needed help shearing his small flock, and I saw the opportunity to try a “Sheep to Shawl” project – where you take the raw fiber, clean it, spin it into thread, and weave it into a shawl. I learned how to weave in high school, but I did not know how to spin my own thread. I borrowed a spinning wheel from my fiber arts mentor, found a spinning group at my local yarn store, and since January have been spinning my own thread!
I started with some practice wool to figure the whole thing out, and have just started to spin the fleeces I helped to harvest. It’s going to take me a while, but I’m more interested in the process than any sort of speed. There’s an unfortunate cultural dichotomy between “art” and “science”, but I find that the sort of thinking needed to plan how the threads will intertwine to make a solid and beautiful cloth, is the same sort of thinking needed to understand the myriad processes that inform how an ecosystem functions. If you think about it sideways, knitting & weaving pattern drafts are the first form of binary computer programs – repetitive patterns that when followed result in a product. The creativity needed to make beautiful art is the same creativity that helps problem solve in the field, and long term project planning, forethought and tenacity are all necessary in both research and in fiber arts. While the art itself may not be relevant to the jobs I apply for, the skills are transferable, and the actions recharge my batteries so I can keep solving problems creatively.
It’s an easy trap to fall into – the idea that learning only happens in the classroom, and that once you’ve finally finished school and thrown off the trappings of academia you’re done and never have to learn again.
But never learning anything new would get boring quickly, wouldn’t it?
I may be frustrated by how long it is taking me to find ‘a career’, but I can’t regret the lily pads that I have landed on in the mean-time, or the skills that I have had the opportunity to pick up.
Exciting. Inspiring. Educational. Opportunistic. Expanding my network. Hopeful. A sine wave of disappointment followed by renewed determination to keep trying. The longer my job search continues, the more adjectives I have to describe it.