Internet Careers for Scientists: Part 1--From Environmental Science to New Media

I started to use computers at an early age. I can fondly remember my first attempts at making simple graphic programs using Logo on an Apple II. I also developed a fascination for science and nature while spending my early years in the outdoors of Nelson, British Columbia (BC). Yet, after graduating from high school in Victoria, BC, I was unsure of the exact area I wanted to study or what type of career to aim for.

I made the decision to keep my options open by completing a year of general study in university transfer courses at a community college. This was a fantastic time for me, in that I had the liberty of taking a mix of courses in the arts, sciences, and social sciences. I took some courses in mathematics and physics and became very interested in technology, society, and systems. While browsing the Maclean's review of universities, I noticed that the University of Waterloo stood out in terms of progressive, future-looking programs. I did some further research and found a program called Systems Design Engineering that seemed like the perfect combination of technology, math and physics, and creativity--my interests. The particular career path I had in mind at the time was to focus on addressing environmental problems through the application of technology and systems thinking.

An added bonus was that the program at Waterloo was a co-op program: I could actually earn some money to pay for my studies and at the same time gain some real-world experience. In my third year, and after four co-op placements in different industries, I decided to take some time off for some informal education in developing countries. I spent 6 months studying, volunteering, and traveling in Central America. It was certainly an eye-opening time as I lived with different families, trekked through the mountains, explored the rainforest, taught science and basketball to children at an orphanage, was healed by a witch doctor, and explored ancient Maya ruins. This experience was truly life changing and also changed my course of study.

I returned to Victoria to study pure sciences at the University of Victoria (UVic) in order to acquire the prerequisite knowledge for the environmental science program at Royal Roads University in Victoria. The switch from engineering to science was welcome, because it allowed me to explore some of the more theoretical principles behind what was taught in engineering. During my time at UVic, I hooked up with a professor doing research and development in educational new media. This placement resulted in extended employment as a contractor, the task of establishing a graduate student research lab for educational new media, and work on the development of a multimedia course for third-year education students. I transferred all of my credits from UVic and Waterloo to Royal Roads University, where I completed a B.Sc. in environmental science.

So, I ended up coming full circle with my undergraduate degree, from initially wanting to do work in environmental systems, exploring various other technical careers such as robotics and control systems engineering, and then ultimately finishing in a scientific program dealing with the environment. I felt I was on the right track to a truly satisfying career.

Naturally, I wanted to apply in my work what I had previously learned, so I set forth to find out what was out there in the way of jobs. Much to my disappointment, there didn't seem to be too many great opportunities in pure sciences for people with just a science undergraduate degree. At the same time, I wasn't entirely interested in doing conventional science at the risk of being stuck with projects that offered little opportunity for creativity. I went on to look for a combination of science and technology so I could best utilize my experience. The result: communications, systems design, and science education at a new media company.

My current role as an associate producer at the Lunny Communications Group does not necessarily scream out "environmental science." But I use my scientific and technical knowledge on a daily basis. The majority of our work involves some aspect of science education at various levels. We create CD-ROMs, Web sites, videos, large-format films, and exhibit or installation designs for museums that create engaging ways for people to learn about scientific concepts. Also, I think the critical thinking and writing skills learned in a science education are very applicable in any career. The curiosity that goes hand in hand with science is a definite asset in today's world of work. It is said that continuous learning is the norm for work today. With a science education, the continuous drive to explore fits nicely with the new working paradigm.

In new media, I have the opportunity to work with outstanding creative people on world-class projects, while applying my creativity and using advanced technical tools to educate others. The emergence of integrated systems is being realized more and more in museums. The project I am working on now is located in Saudi Arabia and is a fascinating combination of science research, integrated systems design, and Islamic culture. The project team consists of architects, writers, scientists, graphic artists, filmmakers, programmers, and project managers--it is definitely an extraordinary combination! This project is also a tremendous opportunity to educate young people about science and the possibilities for them in the future.

My advice for people in science who are wondering if there are ways that they can develop their careers, other than spending time the lab, is to take a look at technology. There is an increasing number of opportunities in science communications. So get out there and create the life and career you want.

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