Congrats! You just graduated! Now what?
If you have just graduated with a Bachelors degree related to STEM fields, and you’re thinking about what a career in Marine Science might look like for you, you likely have many pressing questions.
What’s life going to be like after college?
What are my next steps?
How am I going to be competitive in Marine Science?
Here’s what Colin Howe, Tropical Marine Ecologist, heard when he graduated…
If you’ve just come out of college, likely graduate school is the consistent next step you’ve been given (over and over again). Yay! More school!
However, if you’re like Colin and struggled to get into grad school right out of college, or if you’re completely burned out and need a break before committing to more school… OR someone who simply needs to start working right now and making some income, there are other options.
Internships, volunteering, and work study
It’s TOTALLY FINE if you decide to take some time after college before hopping into graduate school or a long-term job!
Thinking about internships, volunteering, and study abroad teaching opportunities can be a really effective and useful way to develop your skillsets, background, and build your career within Marine Science. In fact, we encourage a lot of recent graduates to take the time to look at these other options. You’ll not only be able to develop skillsets and experience within a particular field, but you’ll be able to fine tune your interest to whatever area or field within Marine Science you’re interested in.
Marine Science is a huge field
There are so many different positions that fall within the umbrella term of Marine Science. That means there are equal to, if not more, internships, volunteering, teaching and work study opportunities for you to choose from.
How to evaluate Marine Science Opportunities
First Question: Is this internship paid?
You’re likely aware that most of these entry level positions won’t be paid very much, or at all. Unfortunately, that is a real aspect of this career (and needs to change). But, even if these internships cannot provide a real income, they usually can provide some level of support. Room and board, Meals, transportation to remote facilities, etc. So, when you’re evaluating these different internships look into what they offer and which one might fit your needs.
For example, Colin’s background is Tropical Marine Ecology. For these types of popular, heavy fieldwork, remote traveling opportunities you can run the risk of finding “pay to play” internships. You pay to work at a particular facility or location. If you’re someone who (like Colin) refuses to pay to work, or if you simply can’t afford that type of opportunity, volunteering can be a very effective (and cost-effective) alternative to paid internships.
The only circumstance where you pay for an internship would be ideal is if you’re receiving a tangible deliverable. Something like a widely recognizable certification, college credits (if you can use them), etc.
Volunteering is awesome!
Especially if you already have a 9-5 job, that may not be within STEM but you’re still determined to pursue that as a career. You can volunteer at:
- Local Aquarium
- State Park
- Anywhere outdoors that’s environmental in nature
These can give you the behind the scenes access and hands on training/experience without the full commitment of an internship or part-time job.
2nd Question: What is the length of the internship?
Generally, you want to put emphasis on internships that are at least 4 months – 1 year. That’s the sweet spot for internships. This length of time gives you a shot of producing some sort of deliverable as well. This can be useful in selling your ability to be productive, show your determination and hard work, and you’re more likely to be able to produce something like that with longer internships.
When to take shorter internships – You’re in college, trying to get ahead of the game, and only have a few months (i.e. during the summer/winter).
3rd Question – What is the intern history?
Take the time, go to the website, and a lot of the good internships will have a section on their website that lists their history and previous interns. This can be a treasure trove of useful information that can help identify and select attributes that are highly favored at this particular internship. Each of these intern from the past will be asked to write a blurb and background information about themselves. Likely, you’ll see trends for skillsets, experiences, interests that are hired and you can use this to highlight similar interests that you may have. This can also provide info for how many interns they tend to hire, and how often.
Best ways to apply for internships and Marine Science opportunities
What can you do to set your application above the rest, and have each evaluator spend as much time looking at your resume compared to others?
Rule 1: Follow the rules!
It makes a difference when you actually format and organize your application specifically how it is specified in the job description. It’s an early indication for evaluators who is able to follow instructions.
They’re reviewing hundreds of applications, so these details matter. Page numbers matter. What is contained within your CV matters. How long your cover letter is matters. These things are used to expedite the application process, and make your application as concise as possible. So, take the time and read exactly how your application should be submitted.
Rule 2: Tailor your application to the specific agency or facility you’re applying to
Colin has met a lot of really ambitious and motivated recent graduates that have a bunch of different applications, and they’ve put a lot of effort and time into one version of their cover letter and resume. They then shotgun blast that to a lot of places at once. Now, that could be effective. If you apply to 50-100 internships, 1 or 2 may trickle out and turn into an interview…
However, if you take your time to evaluate each of the internships it will prep you up so you know exactly what to expect if you get an interview or hired. It’s a really effective way to sell yourself to the particular agency or organization. The longer their eyeballs are on your application, the better.
As an evaluator, if you’re reading a resume or cover letter and the theme/topic is very related to the expectations and details in the job description these are the applications you’ll spend more time reading. Many times, it’s clear if the application is not intended for your particular program. There are signs that evaluators have learned to recognize the application was generic, and not tailored to the job description.
If you can follow these 2 rules, it will set you in the good pile from the start!
Colin’s Marine Biology Journey
2 Years Post Graduation with Marine Biology degree
Colin was committed to becoming a Marine Biologist. But, 2 long years (and 2 short internships) post college graduation he still hadn’t landed a professional position or graduate program as a Marine Biologist.
However, turns out he was well on his way to becoming a Marine Biologist. He was able to leverage his experience and get a part time paid position at a study abroad facility on the desert like Caribbean island of Bonaire. This internship in many ways transformed his understanding of the field of Marine Biology.
After 8 months of continuous diving, teaching, and ecological research, he finally felt validated as a Marine Biologist. After that, he never looked back!
So, what keeps Colin excited now?
To this day he’s a scientist who gets excited when he talks about coral reefs, and the ocean. He’s also inspired when he meets passionate and early career scientists. He finds motivation in sharing ocean stories that reveal deep connections with each scientists life.
Over the years of study and research in the Caribbean, he is determined to learn as much as he can and to share it with everyone the best way he can! Check out this part of the video for a peek at Colin working in the beautiful Caribbean!
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