Four months to change a career
I didn’t grow up in the city. I had the chance to grow up in what some would consider one of the most diverse places in Canada: the Rocky Mountains. I spent most of the summer as a child at the lake, a five-minute walk from my house. As a young child I had no idea the privilege of growing up surrounded by the lakes, rivers, mountains and wildlife. My family weren’t avid outdoors people, and I was never really exposed to the adventures of backpacking or climbing as some of my friends had been.
So leaving for me was the easiest decision in the world when I made the choice to attend Dalhousie University across the country in Nova Scotia. I had gone into university with the same intent as many others do: to graduate and apply to medical school to become a doctor. However, the summer jobs that intrigued me were not ones of being in a lab all day — rather a mix between the office and the outdoors. I transferred after my first year to Memorial University of Newfoundland and within only a few months I fell into my major, not my first intended choice of neuroscience but biology.
My third year in university was the first year I was determined to try and get a job back home to experience and apply the knowledge I’d be learning. I spent months contacting multiple organizations within my community that were biology-related and would allow me the chance to get out in the field. One such opportunity was a job position with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). I had conversations with the office about what the position would involve and then began research into areas that I could improve on. I settled on GIS (Geographic Information Systems). I took courses in addition to my school classes so that I could learn the basics of GIS, and it surprised me that I actually ended up enjoying it.
Before I began my internship with NCC, I had the opportunity to take an independent research course where I got my first introduction into gathering field data. After those two weeks completing field work in Newfoundland I couldn’t wait to start with NCC, hoping that I would enjoy working at home as much as I did on the coast.
NCC provided me with the opportunity to learn about different techniques and methods of collection. I was able to travel and experience more land in one summer than I had my entire childhood living there. I was exposed to areas that I didn’t even know existed, such as working in Darkwoods on road deactivation. One of my greatest experiences was actually bat volunteer work that was only possible because of my work with NCC introducing me to Cori Lausen, a bat biologist who had been doing research in the area. I was able to participate in the second bioblitz in the Flathead helping to set up mist nets to look at the bat species diversity in the area.
This past summer working with NCC changed my entire perspective of what is to work outdoors, and to be exposed to a type of work that I had never had the opportunity to consider. I didn’t know how much I would actually enjoy spending my days and sometimes nights in remote places of the Rocky and Purcell Mountains, but its impact redirected my entire studies after finishing my internship.
Arriving back in Newfoundland for my final year, I had already done the research into what I could do academically to improve my knowledge and expertise in the areas I had worked in this summer with NCC. I applied to my university’s Advanced Diploma in GISciences. Upon being accepted this past October I’ll be adding another year to my schooling, but I will also have the chance to do more field research, and as part of this program an internship and my own choice of research project to graduate.
Without being given the opportunity to work with NCC I may have not discovered a career path with that excites me academically and pushes me physically. We may feel starting university we know our career path and where we want to go. It’s important to note that I grew up in a perfect area to learn about the diversity of plant or bird species, but for me it wasn’t until I had the chance to have hands-on experience that I realized I had a passion for a career involving the outdoors.
I hope I become an example to future interns that you don’t need to come from an avid outdoors family — you just have to have an interest and the tenacity to want to learn more, get out there and explore!