Career Advice Environmental Careers

Career Pathways for Nature-Based Educators

Nature centers are a great place for environmental educators to build a career.

Often located on preserves, nature centers connect people to the natural world by erasing the walls of the traditional classroom.

Educators at these organizations develop and use innovative, hands-on, methods to enhance the public’s understanding of local ecosystems and foster responsible stewardship of nature. Students have the opportunity to engage with the natural environment and witness science in action.

Think visitor centers, guided interpretive tours, museums and exhibits, as well as structured programs, camps and classes for all ages. 

If you are interested in seeing where nature center jobs can take you, continue reading. We review the types of professional roles and educational programs at nature centers to help you understand the possibilities.

Professional Roles: 3 Main Tiers

Roles can be broken down into three tiers, entry level, mid level, and senior level. 


NOTE: Many organizations offer volunteer and internship experiences for students and other people just starting out in the field. While these opportunities can help you become a more competitive applicant, they are not always economically feasible. 


Entry Level:

Entry-level roles are where you will typically start out since they require little to no prior paid work experience. Often seasonal or part time, these jobs are a great way for you to gain teaching experience and become familiar with environmental curriculums. These positions can help you get your foot in the door since many organizations hire from within. 

The specific tasks and responsibilities of these roles vary depending on the organization and the program focus.

  • Assistant Teacher – In this role, you might serve as a teacher’s aid, substitute teacher or on-call teacher for school field trips.
  • Camp Counselor – As a counselor you will implement environmental education curriculum during camp, coordinate activities, guide campers, manage group dynamics, and ensure safety protocols.
  • Seasonal Educator – In this instructor role, you teach – and sometimes design – lesson plans while adapting content to a wide variety of different learners and age groups.
  • Naturalist – As a naturalist you provide environmental interpretive services which can include guided walks for the visiting public.

Mid Level:

Environmental educators in mid-level positions take on more responsibility. These positions however also require more experience – you will likely need a few years (or seasons) in an entry-level role under your belt before landing your first mid-level job. The good news is that mid-level jobs are more likely to be permanent positions as opposed to seasonal or temporary work. They also are more likely to pay a salary with benefits. 

  • Environmental Education Coordinator  – As a coordinator, it is your responsibility to ensure smooth daily operations at the center. This generally includes exhibits, presentations and onsite education programs. You could be involved in the strategic interpretive planning for the center’s exhibits, educational spaces and programs. 
  • Outdoor Education Instructor – As an instructor it’s your job to implement curriculum. You help develop and deliver programming. Work includes long-range planning and daily nature education activities. As an experienced instructor, you may supervise educational assistants. 
  • Assistant Education Director  – As an assistant director you are directly involved with planning, organizing and implementing curriculum and operations. You may recruit, interview, and make hiring recommendations for staff and volunteers.    

Senior Level:

To reach the senior level you will likely need several years of experience in a mid-level position, strong leadership skills and a good familiarity with operations. A graduate degree in environmental education or a related field might be needed in some cases.

  • Director of Education – As the director, you are directly responsible for the management of education programs. You oversee staff and programming, including curriculum development. Additionally, you help create and implement strategic business plans that set the future course for programs.

Program Types

Nature centers can offer a wide variety of programs and learning experiences. Similarly, jobs in environmental education can vary widely depending on the type of program

Below we list some common program types. As examples, we also feature some organizations that offer these types of programs 

School-Based Programs

Many nature centers host field trips on-site and offer to bring their programs to schools. The Environmental Volunteers organization located in Palo Alto, California offers hundreds of programs for school groups. Sprout Up is one unique program that trains college students as instructors to deliver environmental science programs for 1st and 2nd graders. The lessons and activities teach children and their families about the role they can play in protecting the environment and instill a sense of stewardship. 

“We are inspiring a love of science and nature not just because it’s the right thing to do but because we really need the next generation to protect the conservation investments that we’ve made not only here locally but around the world. This is the moment when we can help steer kids in that right direction for the long term.”
Elliott Wright Executive Director, Environmental Volunteers

Preschool Programs

Some nature center programs cater to younger children. The Hartley Nature Preschool at the Hartley Nature Center in Duluth, Minnesota is one example. The preschool teachers engage children at a young age and inspire life-long connections to nature. Instructors lead kids, ages 3 to 5, outside every day (in safe weather) to learn through play and exploration. 

“HNP is changing the world for the next generation, one preschooler at a time and we are so thankful our kids have had the opportunity to be shaped by such an amazing program with exceptional teachers.”
2018-19 Preschool Parent, Hartley Nature Preschool

Summer Camps

During the summer, nature centers offer environment-themed camps for children. For example, Woodcock Nature Center in Wilton, Connecticut offers multiple summer camp programs. They hire experienced environmental educators to guide hikes and canoeing, engage in nature-based crafts and teach wilderness skills and conservation concepts.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to work with kids in the outdoors. They not only enjoy socializing with each other but also exploring, playing, building, and asking questions. In this environment, they often don’t even realize they are learning. These experiences can help cultivate a lifelong appreciation of the natural world.”
Sarah Breznen, Director of Education, Woodcock Nature Center

Nature for All

Some programs provide experiences specifically for kids living in urban environments. The Mohonk Preserve in New Paltz, NY offers City Kids on the Ridge which brings children from urban areas into nature. The program focuses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) learning as it relates to environmental conservation.  

“I have a responsibility to help improve the environment in my area. We can do better. Nature is a big part of our world. We do not treat it as a big problem but if we keep polluting it, it will be gone.”
Nasah and Amago, Students from City Kids on the Ridge, Mohonk Preserve

Wildlife Education

Wildlife education programs give students the opportunity to see animals up close. The Howell Nature Center in Howell, Michigan has a teaching zoo (with both an onsite and mobile option). The center has over 70 permanent native animals that accompany informational presentations for student groups. 

“Our programs give kids and community members the opportunity to connect with and become stewards of the natural world in ways they normally may not. We strive to instill a reverence for wildlife and teach people to live in harmony with wildlife. Additionally, we utilize inquiry-based learning to encourage participants to ask their own questions and develop methods to find the answers to their questions.” – Laura Butler Director of Wildlife & Education, Howell Nature Center


Individual Learning Experiences

For those with a budding interest in nature, some centers offer individual experiences. The Junior Curator and WILD! Keeper Programs at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center in Connecticut provide kids with basic animal care training. Educators play a key role in engaging these students with nature on a deeper level. In some cases, these specialized experiences inspire kids to explore environmental careers themselves.

“For those interested in education, get as much teaching experience as possible. We can teach people what to teach, but not how to teach, that comes with time and practice.”
Lisa Monachelli, Director of Education & Summer Camp Director, Stamford Museum & Nature Center

Extended Education for Educators

Many organizations run programs for adult learning. The Ecology School in Saco, ME offers professional development programs in environmental education for educators themselves. The school focuses on hands-on exploration of Maine’s ecosystems, sustainable living practices, food systems and farming, and conservation-in-action.

“I feel so lucky to have landed at The Ecology School and to have been able to make a career here as part of this very special organization. Being part of an organization that places a high value on community, collaboration and joyful learning as well as getting to work day in and day out with inspiring leaders, teachers and students continue to be a really rewarding part of my life.”
Alex Grindle, Director of Programs, The Ecology School


Alyson Morris is the Communications Specialist for CJB Network and writes on environmental career development. She is a graduate student at the University of Oregon and is pursuing her Master’s in Strategic Communication.


Career Advice

11 Reasons to Join a Conservation Corps – Infographic

My service with the Student Conservation Association and the Big Sky Watershed Corps was instrumental in my journey to become an environmental communications professional. Those experiences inspired me to create the following infographic that illustrates just a few of the many benefits of serving with a corps!


Alyson Morris is the communications specialist for CJB Network and writes on environmental career development. She is a graduate student at the University of Oregon and is pursuing her Master’s in Strategic Communication. She is also an alum of both the Student Conservation Association and Big Sky Watershed Corps of Montana.


Career Advice

Environmental Career Pathways: Where Can GIS Take Me?

GIS plays an important role in many environmental careers. As you take classes and build your skills, you may be wondering about the career pathways that GIS opens for you and the prospects for getting these jobs.

Long seem days when Entry-Level really meant no prior professional experience required. Somehow over the past decade, Entry-Level has morphed into meaning 1-2 years of experience, graduate-level education, and in some cases, the ability to obtain professional certification

Do not dismay or lose interest in these seemingly unattainable jobs. Leverage classes to bolster resume experience. Showcase service-learning style experience, internships, teaching assistantships and semester projects where GIS skills were applied to real-world issues. 

The career pathway for an aspiring candidate in GIS can be broken into several tiers each with increasing complexity and responsibilities. 


GIS Technician


The GIS Technician focuses on building entry-level candidates’ ability to collect, maintain, organize, and distribute geospatial data efficiently within the project team and to other theme specialists. 


Most successful undergraduate students with several semesters of GIS classes, teaching experience, or applied research are typically well suited for this role. For some career paths this skill level will be adequate throughout, where simple map visualization is sufficient and quantitative interpretation is studied in other statistical platforms. 

Possible Roles

The Technician level will likely be sufficient for roles such as rangeland ecologists focusing on carrying capacity, who only need to visualize the GPS collar data to complement analysis or the fish biologist who will collect and map data on feeding, spawning, and breeding habitats for trout, but whose focus will not need overlay analysis.

Side Note: Overlay analysis is one of the fundamental applications of GIS, where one can, for example, overlay satellite imagery with habitat boundaries or water wells over bedrock geology. 

The more GIS focused career path at the Technician level may serve multiple disciplinary teams and offices within a consulting company or conservation nonprofits such as the National Parks Conservation Association or The Trust for Public Land.  

GIS Analyst


Next up on the experience ladder is the GIS Analyst. Within this role a candidate leverages more of their interpretation skills through overlay of various spatial data and makes the implicit explicit. Applied classes in GIS that focus on vector and raster interpretation and remote sensing are beneficial in providing foundational knowledge on how to approach more complex spatial tasks. 

Side Note:

Vector data are simply points, lines, and polygons that are used to describe real world features. Their advantage is the ability to store and relate attribute data (tabular). 

Raster data is a grid of equally sized cells where a value is stored at the centroid of each cell similar to how a digital photograph stores color at each pixel. Raster analysis is efficient at combining or sampling multiple layers. 


Within the hierarchy of smaller companies and nonprofits the GIS Analyst still performs much of the technician duties, but from experience now applies efficient practices to menial tasks allowing the undertaking of more complex assignments. 

Side Note: Central to these efficiency skills is a thorough understanding of database schema, quality assurance and control, and leveraging scripting and standard query language (SQL) for batch data cleaning. These skills are often gained in computer science classes for database design, R or Python (scripting), or learned by practice in the trade.

Possible Roles

In the consulting realm, the GIS Analyst may serve as the subcontractor to the fish biologist who collects the GPS data, but now wants it interpreted for proximity to pollution sources or sample bedrock geology characteristics. 

At nonprofits, the Analyst role can bring spatial context to conservation proposals. 

The conservation and environmental analyst often works on public-facing documents or interactive maps for stakeholders. For example, the federal Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) program may ask the Fish and Wildlife analyst to compile field data from GIS technicians and map the spread of the disease over time in a state or region. 

Side Note: No matter what the level, GIS professionals understand the necessity and time it takes to find and prepare the data. This often represents much of the time budgeted for a project.  


GIS Project Manager


Once 5 to 10 years of experience is attained, GIS professionals typically are looking for roles in Project Management. In this role, one interfaces more with clients, sets timelines, budgets, trains, and lends a hand in geospatial troubleshooting and critical decisions.


GIS Analysts in smaller environmental companies and nonprofits likely have already begun to take on some of these responsibilities. However, the Project Manager directs technicians and analysts and bridges the gaps with other topic specialists within the organization. 

At this point, the role is relying more on soft skills: employee, client, and stakeholder management. Oral and written communication is key. Candidates who make an effort to include peer review and orally present their findings to stakeholders or at conferences throughout their careers will be better prepared for such communication. 

Possible Roles

Project Manager roles tend to be regional in structure. The fish and wildlife biologist may implement regional scale initiatives for habitat or migration corridor pathways and manage technicians and analysts across multiple districts. An example at the nonprofit, the Project Manager may implement an inventory of stream impairment throughout the Missouri River basin bringing in satellite offices, federal and state resources and other subcontractors. 

Side Note: Around the 3-5 year mark, employees can take advantage of the GIS professional certificate (GISP). Another line on the resume, but an important one that can distinguish the common button pusher from the GIS professional. 

Career Checkpoint

At this point in the career it is important to take stock of your skills and knowledge gained to better understand the breadth of your portfolio of experience. Have choices along the way pigeon-holed your skillset to running similar routines and scripts with the only difference being the client? 

Try to remember along this journey to network with local professionals. Networking opportunities abound whether griping over a beverage about how the scale bar will not comply or taking on volunteer projects with the GISCorps to apply GIS for the betterment of all. Consider formalizing that time-saving script written after many late nights into a usable plugin by submitting it to the QGIS project.

GIS Supervisor/Coordinator


After the 10 year mark the GIS Supervisor and Coordinator roles come within reach to those still steadfast in the profession. These positions require candidates to be well-organized leaders who translate the objectives into digestible tasks for the managers, analysts, and technicians.


GIS Coordinators will need to have a well-versed background working with a variety of stakeholders and projects. Often, having a successful track record with government contracts and initiatives will be pivotal for the Coordinator in an environmental organization. 

Possible Roles

The GIS Coordinator role focuses more on bringing in new projects and clients, proposal writing, and turning client and colleague ideas into spatial realities. Federal, state, and local government equivalents understandably have more demands on navigating bureaucracy in addition to the demands of planning, research, and asset management requests. The Coordinator may also be tasked with regional and local community outreach to better understand the conservation needs and complexity of various stakeholder groups.

The Big Takeaway

Keep in mind that not all environmental jobs are alike. Not all will require you to have this depth and breadth of knowledge to be a successful candidate. 

At Montana State University nearly 75 different majors filter through the introduction to cartography and GIS class. Many never move on beyond that simply because their career path will only require them to collect and visualize data sets. For example, an environmental scientist may only spend a quarter or less of their time visualizing or running analysis in GIS and most of their duties focused on project coordination, interpretation of field samples, and report writing.

 Regardless of the level or job, one thing is fundamental to success in the GIS world and that is a strong understanding of coordinate system management and data stewardship. Whether it is simple overlays or complex machine learning, knowing how to manipulate data between coordinate systems and preserve data quality is a cornerstone for any GIS user.


Nick Fox is an instructor at Montana State University in the Department of Land Resources & Environmental Sciences. His teaching interests include communication through cartography and GIS modeling in addition to geodesy and GPS field mapping.


Career Advice

11 Reasons to Join a Conservation Corps

Do you dream of doing exciting and important work in an environmental field? Serving with a conservation corps can provide you skills and direction to turn that dream into reality.

What is a Conservation Corps?

Conservation corps are organizations that serve communities by helping to protect and sustainably manage natural resources. Young adults and veterans can serve with a corps program for a set term, generally from 3 months to a year, and gain real-world work experience.

Working with conservation corps can earn you a living stipend and education award. It can also help launch your environmental career.

Want to see if there are programs near you? Check out the Corps Network to find a conservation corps in your state or region. You can also search websites like Conservation Job Board to find specific positions that conservation corps are advertising. 

So how can a conservation corps benefit you? Check out our top 11 reasons below to learn more.

1. Ecological Literacy

Photo courtesy of the Nevada Conservation Corps

If you want a  conservation career, ecological literacy is a must. A service term with a conservation corps is a great place to build a foundation of knowledge in ecology, especially in the region where you hope to work. The Nevada Conservation Corps for example teaches through a combination of field research and direct conservation work. The crew not only instructs their corps members on how to thin forests but educates them on why they are thinning. Other popular topics they cover include biological surveys, exotic species control, and trail maintenance.

2. Networking

Slough Creek Puncheon, Yellowstone National | Park Photo Credit: Alyson Morris

Professional connections are more important today than ever before. In a corps you have the opportunity to connect with leadership, the personnel at your host site, organizational partners and of course, fellow corps members. These contacts, if nurtured appropriately, can continue to serve you years later. As a two-term conservation corps alum myself, I can personally speak to the benefits. Because of my service terms, I have friends in the conservation field all across the US and strong mentors. I even landed a few jobs as a direct result of my network.

3. Job Opportunities

Photo courtesy of Conservation Corps Minnesota and Iowa

Break into the tough environmental job market by serving with a conservation corps. The experience will not only look great on a resume, but it’s not uncommon for host sites to hire their service members. Shane DeGroy served three separate terms with Conservation Legacy, Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa, and Minnesota Green Corps. After his last term he was hired by his host organization, the Hennepin County Forestry Program. Read about his and other CCMI alumni experiences.


4. Technical Skills

Photo courtesy of the California Conservation Corps

The mission of a conservation corps is to empower youth to become stewards of the environment. To do that successfully, these programs provide technical skills training in a variety of topic areas. Not only will these skills help you stand out when applying for jobs but they can also help you achieve success in your future positions. Below we list a few specialized trainings offered through the California Conservation Corps that are fairly universal across many corps programs.

  Flood Fighting Techniques

 Plant Identification

Trail Construction & Maintenance

♦  Emergency Camp Support

♦  Firefighting Techniques

♦  Forestry/Fire Hazard Reduction

♦  Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response

♦. Trail Structures

♦  Construction & Trades

♦  Chainsaw Safety

♦  Tree-Climbing Safety


5. Communication Skills

Strong communication skills are important in all aspects of life. While serving with a corps you often work alongside other members and professionals at the federal, state and local levels. In these roles, you hone “soft skills” like verbal and written communication. Specialized internship programs, like Individual Placement Programs, heavily emphasize these types of professional social skills.

Lucinda Morris, Big Sky Watershed Corps member 2016-2017 | Photo Credit: Nick Franz, Wildlife Conservation Society

The Big Sky Watershed Corps in Montana is an individual placement program run through the Montana Conservation Corps. Their members participate in communication workshops and attend a number of professional conferences that help them bolster their communication skills. 


“I thoroughly enjoyed my term of service with BSWC, it was both challenging and rewarding. I was definitely pushed to a level of a professional standard above any time previously in my life. This personal growth has prepared me to enter the workforce as more than just a laborer by introducing me to a level of responsibility and expectation that I would guess many people my age do not experience. I don’t think I would have been able to find my place here without the connections this program fostered. I would consider myself to have developed into an entirely new person, one that my previous self could hardly have dreamed of.”
-BSWC Member



6. Leadership

Corps members often leave their programs feeling more confident in taking leadership roles. When you serve with a corps program you can work alongside people from different regions, religions, ethnicities, races, socioeconomic statuses and political backgrounds. These programs show how much diverse groups can accomplish with a united goal. This perspective is incredibly powerful in recognizing the ability to make change.

Many conservation corps place a strong emphasis on diversity and inclusion. For example, the Northwest Youth Corps offers programs that engage Native American, LGBTQ, and Deaf/Hard of Hearing youth and young adults. The organization also has youth and young adult programs for all the communities it serves.

Photo courtesy of Kupu Hawaii

The Conservation Leadership Development program at Kupu in Hawaii is another program that offers rigorous and empowering experiences for those looking for careers in environmental conservation. They have a great video that summarizes their corps experience and provides testimonials of program alumni.

7. Career Insight

Photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries

Conservation corps provide opportunities to “try out” different careers and find professional direction. Sarah V, alumni with the GulfCorps crew, a program run by the Texas Conservation Corps, understands this well. After completing her degree in environmental biology and English she was unsure what to do. Her experience with the Corps provided her with additional skills and direction as she discovered her passion for ecology. Read more about her term experience and other TXCC alumni


8. Work Experience

The struggle with landing entry-level jobs is that many employers want you to have some relevant experience. But how can you gain experience if you are unable to get a job? Fortunately, serving in a conservation corps can help you overcome this obstacle. Whether you are just out of high school or a recent graduate, serving in a conservation corps will give you environmental field experience that can set you apart from other candidates. And the best part is you don’t NEED experience to work for a conservation corps.

Photo Credit: David Kallenbach

The Student Conservation Association offers programs for teenagers 15-19.  Most traditional field crews are 18-25 and if you are interested in more of an internship experience there are a number of individual placement opportunities, that are generally for those 21 and up (these often require a bachelor’s degree before you can enroll). 

9. Education Award

Upon completion of an Americorps term, members receive Segal Americorps Education Awards. You can use this money to pay for college, graduate school, vocational training or towards existing student loans. The award amount will depend on the length of time you served. 

Learn more on the Americorps site about how to use this award. 

Other fun facts. When serving with any Americorps program, you have the option to defer any current student loans you are paying. While a loan is in deferment it continues to accrue interest but many Americorps programs offer interest repayment options at the end of your service.

10. Education Advancement

After gaining career insight (benefit #7) you may decide that the next step in your career journey is additional schooling. All of the benefits described in the article can bolster your undergraduate or graduate application. Experience, direction and professional contacts can all make you a much stronger candidate for environmental Master’s programs

Photo Credit: Alyson Morris

In some cases, your service can help open the door to graduate school opportunities. Evan Norman, an alumni with the Big Sky Watershed Corps, discovered his passion for hydrology during his term of service. His experience introduced him to his graduate school advisor and eventually led to a job with the Montana Department Natural Resources. Read more about how his experience in the corps launched his professional career.

11. Personal Growth

Photo courtesy of the Arizona Conservation Corps

You become a part of something bigger than yourself by serving communities and protecting natural resources. And with that comes a sense of pride. Yet the work is not easy. Any program you choose will challenge you mentally, physically and emotionally. Once you reach the other side however, you find that the adversity you faced has built lasting strength and perseverance. An alumni from the Arizona Conservation Corps sums up their experience. 


“I am more adventurous and capable in the back-country, and I’m less afraid of working hard and getting dirty. I feel that I’m less intimidated by starting big tasks or learning new skills, and have been able to apply them even in unfamiliar environments and challenging new work. I’ll continue to fill my life with out-of-the-ordinary experiences that excite me, broaden my horizons, and teach me.”
-Tracy (AZCC).   


Reasons to Join a Conservation Corps – Infographic


Alyson Morris is the communications specialist for CJB Network and writes on environmental career development. She is a graduate student at the University of Oregon and is pursuing her Master’s in Strategic Communication. She is also an alum of both the Student Conservation Association and Big Sky Watershed Corps.


Career Advice Environmental Careers Skill Building

8 Ideas To Boost Your Environmental Career

If you are pursuing an environmental career, it can be daunting to think about the future. Navigating the job market these days can be overwhelming and incredibly frustrating.

A worrisome “Catch 22” conundrum greets most people at stepping stone number one of an environmental career path. You need experience to get an entry-level position, but you need an entry-level position to gain experience. It can be disheartening.

But don’t lose hope – especially if you have some free time. There are various steps you can take now to improve your chances of getting that first position. Even if you have cleared the first employment hurdle and you already have your foot (or leg or torso) in the door, it never hurts to build your skills and knowledge.

The term “environmental careers” refers to a vast umbrella of opportunities that extend widely across multiple disciplines. You may or may not have an idea of where you are headed. And that itself can complicate your job search (not to mention add to your anxiety). But thankfully, the ideas in this article can also help you figure out (and confirm) your career path – which is great because this is one of the most helpful things you can do. 


Check out our list of ideas for how you can advance your environmental career now.

1. Conduct Informational Interviews

If you can define “your dream job” or even just “a great job” you have taken an important step. From there you can define a step-by-step career pathway to arrive at your dream job. It can be difficult to figure this out on your own. So just ask someone who has already done it.

If you are interested in a specific position (or area of research for graduate school), do a little digging and find people who already do that work. Then reach out to them. You can find people through organizations or labs related to your interests. You can also reach out to people through Facebook professional groups in fields like the career networks in wildlife science and marine biology.

If you have a lot of dream jobs, talk to a lot of people. These discussions may also help you narrow down your interests.

Conducting an interview may sound scary. But face your fear! No one can tell you about a field better than a person who is living it. Simply put, informational interviews are one of the best ways to get real answers about what it takes to get to where you want to go. 

2. Volunteer Somewhere

Volunteering can be a helpful step for people who are interested in an environmental career but lack the education and skills to get an entry level or seasonal job. Volunteering is a great way to gain some technical and specialized skills that you might need for these jobs but don’t have.

But more importantly, volunteering can help you gain important insight into a career.

See if you actually want to do it. Reality is often different from our perceptions. Volunteering can help you decide if a career path is really right for you (before you spend years in school preparing for it).

If you look around in your area, you will likely find environmental organizations and university research labs that have low-intensity opportunities for you to help with a project 5 or 10 hours per week.

If you are looking for something higher intensity, then organizations like conservation corps offer longer term, full time volunteer opportunities that include some financial and educational benefits.

3. Learn GIS

Geographic Information Systems. It is one of the most useful tools for environmental and conservation work.

It allows you to make sense of mountains of data. Much of environmental work is intrinsically linked to space (as in spatial position, not stars and planets and stuff… leave that to the astronomers), which makes GIS invaluable to many projects. It’s also an invaluable addition to your resume.

If you have time, you can learn GIS or build your skills if you have a background in it. Luckily, a multitude of online resources can help you accomplish this. Courses range from beginner to expert and from free to not-so-free.

Free GIS Resources 

Esri is a great place to start. 

Paid Courses and Certificate Programs

Certificate programs are a series of courses. They can provide a deeper education in GIS than individual online resources. They cost money – sometimes a lot of money –  but they lead to an official certification that you can showcase on your resume.

Here’s a relatively inexpensive certification program (offered by UC Davis) through Coursera. 

4. Build Your Specialized Skills

Ecology teaches us that specialization can lead to tremendous success. And there are many careers under the environmental umbrella that utilize very specialized skills.

Data Science Programs

For example, much of environmental work exists in the realm of science and data. R and Python are the 2 most widely used programs. You can spend 10 summers measuring tree trunks in Guatemala. But it won’t mean anything to anyone unless you can properly analyze all those carefully collected numbers. 

But learning R or Python requires learning a new language. The language of programming. And this requires time and study. But, like GIS, there are numerous courses online to choose from. Datacamp has courses in all the major data science programs, and you can find courses on Coursera (R, Python) as well.

Scientific Illustration

If you’re artistically inclined or have amazing attention for detail, scientific illustration might interest you. Though photography and videos are robust tools, there are still limitations. Scientific illustrators use art to help us visualize concepts and objects that are beyond the scope of the eyeball.

EdX offers this online course. There is a free audit option or an affordable certificate. You can also find internships or and graduate certificate programs at various universities and institutions. Like CSU Monterey Bay, California Academy of Sciences or University of Washington.

Capture-Mark-Recapture (CMR)

Learning CMR can boost your resume tremendously for wildlife-related jobs. Scientists use CRM to estimate wildlife populations. This data helps us assess the health of ecosystems so we can create sound management plans and policy.

CMR is not widely taught. But if you want to work in the wildlife profession, learning this specialized skill could help your career. This online course can help you learn the basics.

5. Read Journal Articles

Reading scientific journal articles on a daily basis can be a great way to increase your knowledge and broaden your understanding of the field.  Everyday, scientific journals in your field of interest are publishing articles with new research findings and ideas. 

When you read journal articles, it can help you in many ways. It can better inform you for school, interviews or jobs. It can broaden your understanding of your field which can help you develop your career path and research interests – it may even open your eyes to areas of your field that you didn’t know existed.

Reading journal articles is a great way to explore the possibilities of graduate school.

When you find an article that especially piques your interest, you can explore more articles through the references. This can be a great way to find research labs for graduate school. You can email study authors to ask questions about the study.

So how do you find journal articles to read? You can start off with the leading scientific journals in your area of interest (ask around if you need recommendations). If you don’t have library access to articles, you may want to select open-source options. Then, bookmark their table of contents webpages that show new articles each day as they are approved (or follow them in a reader application).  For example, here is the table of contents page for the journal Ecology. Then each day, check in and review the new abstracts. When you find an interesting abstract, add the full article link to your “To Read List.” Try the “30 Articles in 30 Days Challenge.” Make reading journal articles a “habit”.

6. Attend Conferences

You don’t have to be at the forefront of your field to attend a conference. They are great opportunities for you to learn and stay updated about current research and professional developments. 

Learning is a key goal here. But the connections you make at conferences can be just as valuable. It’s much easier to network when you have multiple people you want to connect with – all in the same spot.

Unfortunately, during COVID, these opportunities are limited. But they are not gone completely. Many of these events have moved to online platforms. You won’t be in the same physical space as these folks. But you can still work the virtual room to build your network.

WASET and Conference Next are great resources for finding conferences in different disciplines. There are many databases like these online. You can also find events by talking to people in your field. Ask a biologist friend or your ecology professor if they’ve got any conferences on their calendar. And maybe tag along… 

7. Participate in Citizen Science

Citizen science projects are scientific research studies in which “ordinary” people are helping with the data collection.

These are great opportunities to practice and learn all kinds of valuable skills.

Among other things, you can assist with data entry, identify different organisms, or identify individual animals. You can get exposure to different aspects of science through these projects.

Zooniverse is great because it’s easy to browse specific topics and find an array of interesting studies. You can use the vast list to find things that really interest you. There’s a huge variety. 

Find studies like SquirrelMapper, which tracks the selection for specific color morphs in your favorite rodent. Or Aurora Zoo, which looks at the tiniest shapes within the aurora borealis to better understand our atmosphere.

Citizen science projects can be powerful. Entirely new species have been discovered with crowdsourced science! It can help your career and it also feels really good to contribute. iNaturalist and eBird are other popular citizen science sites.

8. Practice Your Naturalist Skills

Seriously. Just go outside and remember why you wanted to get into this field. 

Learn about the natural history of your area. Go on a walk and bring a field guide. Find a Nature Mystery and work to solve it. Keep a nature journal. Practice plant ID. Look closely at the rocks. Learn bird language. Practice tracking. Get connected.

So often, as we move forward in our careers, we narrow our focus to the specifics of our niche. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There is a lot of value in building expertise on a subject.

But backing up and remembering to look at the big picture will help you combat tunnel vision.

And it has the potential to invite epiphany in your own field. One of the major points we learn in our ecological and environmental classes is that everything is connected. 

So pay attention to all of your surroundings and you just might discover those connections.