Written by: Anna Groves
Primary Source: Plant//People
Over here in reality, I will soon be “moving out of higher education in search of new challenges and opportunities” (thanks, Jobs on Toast). So I’m currently putting together what should be the most important résumé of my life… and belting the Hamilton soundtrack in my kitchen. As I’m contemplating how to compile my relevant experiences and sell myself, I’ll do what I always do when I need to get my thoughts straight: write a blog post.
There’s a million things I haven’t done, just you wait.
My experience is so much more than “academic,” even though I’ve been hanging around universities for the past 8 years. To make a smooth transition out into the big wide world, I’ll need to master talking about the experiences I’ve had and qualifications I’ve picked up along the way.
And wow, is Hamilton pumping me up for this post. Let’s do this.
Who is this kid, what’s he gonna do?
First off, let’s talk Titan Thunder. The worst thing about my undergrad institution was that it seemed to miss the somewhat magical, dripping-with-school-spirit community that my friends at other schools were reveling in. Our D3 football team was even winning regularly, yet the stands were empty. There was no student section, no pep club, no nothing. So I made one.
Over four years, we sold hundreds of t-shirts, painted faces, and made sure as many students as possible owned a green cowbell. Going in, I didn’t know anything about how to run an organization, hold a meeting, design and order merchandise, or coordinate sales. I just did it.
Meanwhile I pursued my love of the environment in my studies. I flip-flopped a few times between the sciences and the humanities, not sure if I wanted to be an ecologist doing research or a lawyer or policymaker fighting for the environment on the front lines. As a result, I took every ecology course my school offered, plus a smattering of environmental policy and government classes. I was the first student in my department’s history to earn a double concentration (Ecology and Environmental Policy) in the degree. I graduated with the “Outstanding Student in Environmental Studies” award in my pocket. I was pumped up and ready to save the environment…
We gotta make an all-out stand.
…With one problem: I was never trained on how to connect with people on environmental issues. I still thought it only took an explanation of facts to get people on board with saving the Earth. But after working as a Sustainability Educator in the dorms, I discovered how frustrating it was to try to convince people to care about something they didn’t care about (surprising, because I really did get a lot of people to go to football games). Since I was young and naïve, I bailed, determined to spend my time on something I truly excelled at. So I stuck with science, thinking I could simply supply the research that those lawyers and policymakers would use to make their impacts. I’d take care of the data and leave the hard stuff to the professionals.
Are these the men with which I am to defend America?
Like many aspiring ecologists, I got my start spraying invasive species for a summer. I surveyed and graded untouched natural areas for two more. I started a barn owl nest box program with the local Audubon Society near my school. I wrote and published my first scientific research paper. I had the summer of a lifetime camping around Nevada with a GPS unit and a pair of binoculars, counting birds and plants for the Great Basin Bird Observatory. And then I started grad school.
But Hamilton still wants to fight, not write.
I had loved exploring new places and getting to know all the organisms that lived there. I didn’t know the difference between ecology and natural history because when I was new to ecology, learning the two was so intertwined that I couldn’t tell the difference. Once grad school showed me that being a good ecologist was 99% experimental design, reading about the same topic again and again, theoretical frameworks, and oh, the statistics… I realized my profound error. I missed the people I had worked with and the adventures we had gone on. I wanted a little more Planet Earth and a little less “Analysis of Ecological Communities.”
I have never been satisfied…
Meanwhile I became the social chair of my department’s grad student organization. So much more than happy hours, I organized field trips to the cider mill, tailgates, and bar crawls for dozens of people. I managed budgets. I reserved spaces. I advertised. I got people there. My “We Drink for Science” page has 100 likes on Facebook. And once a year, I coordinated a university-wide chili cook-off—20 chilis, 200 attendees, a $1500 budget, dozens of volunteers, funding applications, donation solicitations, and more. After four years, I stepped down so that the new social chair could figure things out while I was still around. Now three people form the “social committee” to do what I did solo.
I hear you’ve made yourself indispensable.
I watched my non-science friends find success in marketing, education, business, and web design. I tried not to be jealous, but I was. As I got deeper into science, I understood more deeply the real-world impact research could have, all the while watching the growing disconnect between scientists, the public eye, and Washington. My own research began to seem minimally important when there was so much science already out there that people didn’t know about, didn’t care about, or didn’t have access to. I continued to serve at my university and in my community in any way I could, just striving to stay sane while I finished the research I had committed myself to. I plugged along, resigned to my fate as just another unhappy graduate student.
So long as you come home at the end of the day, that could be enough.
I discovered #scicomm. I started a blog. I joined Twitter. I joined Instagram. I bought two web domains. I taught two semesters of biology to non-majors. I wrote my own lesson plans—once with a group in a seminar on scientific teaching, and once on my own for my paid teaching position. I entered an international science writing contest and won runner-up. Students in my program (Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, & Behavior) wanted their own graduate student organization, so we started one. I was nominated President. I finally realized that all of these “extra-curriculars” were what I really loved, and that I was damn good at them. I finally realized I could try to make a difference in the world after all, if I just did what I’m really good at—communicating, organizing, writing. Working with a team. Getting sh*t done. I felt empowered.
I need no introduction, when you knock me down I get the f*ck back up again!
Then the 2016 U.S. election threatened to set their progress back years. As the president-elect’s cabinet continues to be announced, the state of the nation seems bleak for anyone who cares about the environment.
The world turned upside down.
But these people have just redoubled their efforts, embracing the fact that communicating science is more important now than ever before. I want in. I decided there’s no time like the present to find, and work toward, the career of my dreams.
But I have to finish this Ph.D. first. Since I started my dissertation research from scratch instead of plugging into an existing project (oh, did I mention that?), my data were slow to come in, and I have a lot of writing to finish before I graduate. But as of September 2016, I have 99% of my data collected, and have started to write. I have plans to write at least four scientific publications over the next few months, three of which will make up my dissertation. With that and a steady output of blog posts, and a constant eye out for other communication opportunities…I’m doing a lot of writing.
Write day and night like you’re running out time?
Every day you fight like you’re running out of time!
Keep on fighting in the meantime—
So what do I want to be when I grow up? I’m not sure, exactly, but I know what I care about and I know what I can do, and now you do, too. I know you’d be lucky to hire me.
I am not throwing away my shot.
-> My resume. <-
If you want to peruse the full list of my accomplishments, I also have a full academic CV.
I cannot believe how perfectly Act 1 of Hamilton aligned with this post. The lyrics I presented are in chronological order and actually came out of my speakers as I was writing each section. It really set the mood. I’m not normally so thoroughly convinced that I’m a badass. Thanks, Hamilton!
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