PS 23-94 - What's Essential in Preparing Undergrads for Environmental Biology Careers?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Exhibit Hall, Oregon Convention Center
Teresa Mourad, Education & Diversity Programs, Ecological Society of America, Washington, DC and Geri Unger, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Post-baccalaureate students with degrees in environmental biology are entering very diverse careers, mostly in the applied fields. This poster presents highlights of a survey conducted by ESA and the Society for Conservation Biology as part of a project funded by the National Science Foundation, Award # DBI-1539911, Next Generation Careers: Innovation in Environmental Biology. The purpose of the survey was to learn about programs preparing students for career tracks in environmental biology as well as the needs of faculty in this preparation. Faculty, department chairs, academic counselors, career services professionals, and others involved in undergraduate education were invited to participate. The survey was conducted between May 4 and June 30, 2016 and more than 10 disciplinary societies and networks were requested to disseminate the survey to their members. The survey drew 142 responses.


We present highlights of our findings under three categories:

1) Skills for Career Success

  • 75% of respondents listed verbal and written communication skills among the top five skills they wanted their students to graduate with.
  • About 49% incorporated technical competencies such as GIS skills into their programs
  • About half the respondents reported requiring a research project, senior thesis or capstone project in their programs and two-thirds offered field-based courses. 
  • 25% of faculty frequently implement internships 
  • 38% frequently implement volunteer opportunities
  • Nearly 50% indicated that group and team work is among the top five most important skills
  • About 16% selected “Working with diverse audiences” among the top five most important skills
  • 28% selected “Professional attitude and behavior” among the top five most important skills.

2) Primary responsibility for coordinating career services

  • In 61% of institutions, career services activities are coordinated by professionals for the entire institution
  • 14% of institutions relied on their faculty

3) Connecting with Careers

  • 44% of respondents frequently relied on summer research experiences to connect students with careers. 
  • 41% of respondents indicated that their programs frequently incorporate career building activities such as career fairs and career talks. 
  • Less than 20% of respondents used websites frequently for this purpose. 

These findings suggest a need to develop clarity on the types of program changes needed to prepare students for environmental biology careers. We also see a need for more systematic approaches to career advising and how faculty can more effectively connect their students to careers.