February 1, 2019
As an undergraduate student, you often hear the words “experience” and “internship” and feel the pressure of obtaining an internship or experience directly related to your major(s) and intended career path. While it is important to gain experience in your field where you can see the practical applications of the knowledge you have gained through your coursework, volunteering and other experiences outside of your major(s) can be equally beneficial. We’ve developed important career skills through activities not directly related to our majors.
1. Volunteering is a great way to build your network and gain skills that are relevant to a broad range of careers while doing rewarding work that you enjoy.
Annika: As an intern with the Sierra Club Maryland Chapter I was exposed to various opportunities where I could volunteer with different organizations and participate in different outings and local events. I distinctly remember one of the outings I went on was an educated hike near Ellicott City to enjoy nature while also learning about the flooding issues they had been experiencing. While I went on the outing for personal enjoyment and educational purposes, it turned into a networking experience as another woman on the hike was also a geology major. We shared our undergraduate experiences in our various geology courses, identified the rocks we were seeing along the hike together, and discussed our future graduate school and career goals. Often, it feels like the places where I have least expected to network is where I ended up meeting someone with similar interests and career goals. So, I encourage you to volunteer and go to events in your community that are not necessarily geared just toward geology but that interest you because chances are, you are going to connect with someone who has advice and knowledge to give that can be beneficial to you. And who knows, maybe you will come across another geologist.
Sarah: I first went into college with plans to follow a pre-med course track and joined the American Red Cross Club within the first few days of my freshman year to gain basic medical skills and health-related community service experience. I quickly realized that the health sciences field was not for me and switched my course of study to geology and environmental science. Even though the club activities were no longer directly related to my new majors and prospective career in the environmental field, I remained involved with the club in order to develop my skills in important areas that were hard to come by through my geoscience classes alone. I learned to collaborate with others in large and small groups, communicate with the general public, and obtained certifications in advanced first aid and CPR/AED, which is always useful no matter what your career is. Most importantly, I really enjoyed being a part of the American Red Cross Club community and found it to be a fulfilling and enjoyable experience aside from its resume-building benefits.
2. Summer jobs are a great option for hiring managers of internships, jobs, and graduate school application reviewers to look for development skills in their applicants.
Annika: I have worked as a manager at a recreational park and have worked in the food service industry at a golf course. While neither of these jobs are related to geology or environmental studies, I often find myself bringing up the skills and the difficult situations I navigated while in these positions during interviews. These summer jobs provided me with the skills of communication, time management, customer service, and working in a fast-paced and high-pressured environment. While these skills are not specific to the field of geology, they are highly valued by all employers. From your resume, the hiring manager can see that you have basic knowledge of the field. From my experience what they really want to know, is whether you can manage your time, communicate effectively, problem solve, all of which were skills I honed in on during my summer jobs more so than in the classroom.
Sarah: I have spent the past 10 summers involved with an environmental education summer camp, growing from a young camper, to a volunteer, to a staff member, most recently serving as the Assistant Camp Director. Even though it is unlikely that I will end up pursuing a career in environmental education, my passion and enthusiasm for the summer camp program kept me coming back, year after year. I have held different roles on staff, having spent time as the assistant cook, an environmental educator, counselor, and in a directing role. I have gained unique skills from each of these different roles and have learned to appreciate the importance of each staff member and how we all come together to create a cohesive, productive team. One characteristic that employers often look for in applicants is commitment to something they’re passionate about, such as long-term involvement with a non-profit organization or working to complete a long-term project, even if it’s not directly related to their job field. As you remain engaged with such activities over an extended period, you may have the opportunity to develop or master new skills, or to set and reach goals. In short, if you’re passionate about something, don’t be afraid to stick with it for some time. The experiences and accomplishments you gain may serve you well along your career path as well as in your personal life.
As you navigate through your undergraduate career and prepare for what experiences lie ahead, remember to have an open mind about what opportunities you come across and to seek out the value within them. The knowledge you gain from your professors and textbooks will certainly be very important for developing your professional career, but the lessons you gain from other experiences such as volunteering and summer jobs also play an important role in broadening your range of skills that can be applied to graduate school or other jobs in the future.