Monday, January 9, 2012

How did I get here?

If you were to ask me 10 years ago what I thought my life would be like, I would have presented you with a snapshot of a life that is nothing like what I am living today.

My love for the outdoors and wildlife competed strongly with my passion for horses when deciding a career path, but a fresh 18 year-old doesn’t always know what will make them happy in the long run. I ended up choosing the path that led to agriculture rather than wildlife.

I will spare you the details of the series of events 11 years ago that launched my new fate. That is perhaps for another blog post. At the end of that year, I found myself a low-paid, over-qualified, living-with-my-dad, can’t-find-work-in-my-field member of society. While working at one of my two, unfulfilling part-time jobs I realized that I had had enough.

So, naturally, I decided to explore my passion for wildlife and set out searching for graduate programs studying forest carnivores. Email after email went out as I studied for the GRE. One day, I received a reply from a professor specializing in wolves. My hopes fell when I read that his waiting list for taking graduate students was two years long. I thought, “Is this normal? What is so special about wolves?”

He recomended an internship position he had an opening for live-trapping whitetail deer and tracking wolves as a way to gain experience and increase my marketability in the grad program search. It sounded like good advice, as I had little field experience related to wildlife. With my hopes falling daily, I wanted to see if this new path was worth thousands of additional dollars spent on schooling.

Turns out, my new internship supervisor, Dr. L. David Mech (pronounced Meech), was pretty well known. My Dad even owned one of his books. Confidence in my choice swelled and my preparations for moving to Ely for the winter began with excitement. I would settle for wolves if it meant I could then move on to my true love, pine martens.

Ten years later, reflecting on my experience as a field technician intern for Dr. Mech (winter 2002, fall 2002) and an education internship (Jan-June 2003) at the International Wolf Center, I can’t imagine my life any other way.

Internships changed my life. As a mid-twenty-something college graduate 10 years ago, I had been pessimistic that I would find any affordable way to change my career. The short duration of the position meant if the job wasn’t a good fit, I wasn’t stuck. Couple that with the incredible amount of information I absorbed, internships satisfied my need to branch out and explore what really fit for me. The pay was sufficient to cover student loan payments, food and the occasional social outing.

All too often, I feel that adults get stuck in a rut once they find a job that they can tolerate which pays the bills and then some. My message to people in that place is to take a chance. Internships are an opportunity to dip your toes into a new career path and possibly find something that is fulfilling and motivates you to learn more. At the very least, you may discover a new skill or passion, make new friends and have a new life experience to build on.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started thinking about if an internship is right for you:

Wildlife and Fisheries Internships Job Board

MN State Parks Internships/Seasonal Work

Wolf Education Internships