Chelsea Waddell, 2015

chelseaChelsea Waddell believes strongly in the importance of networking with a job, agency, or opportunity of interest. Some of her strongest advice for current and prospective MES students is to make those professional connections as early and as often as possible. She recommends volunteering (though she acknowledges this can be very challenging for graduate students), interning, joining professional societies, taking short-term and contract positions, and reaching out to the leaders working in the fields you want to work in. Not all of these are easy options for graduate students, but they are opportunities available to students who join the MES program.

Chelsea Waddell joined the MES program in 2013 after several years of medical research experience working in labs designing HIV and tuberculosis vaccines. She came to MES to change her career and get the field experience she describes as her “happy place.” When thinking back on her experience in MES, she mentions the strong relationships she built during her time at Evergreen. She worked as a TA in undergraduate programs, supporting students in both statistics and ornithology. She also served as both the statistics tutor and writing tutor for the MES program, supporting her fellow students in building skills in these areas. Her fondest memory of her time in MES is doing her thesis research, catching frogs in wetlands just south of Olympia. Chelsea studied Oregon spotted frogs with the support of a biologist from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and an MES faculty member. Her thesis, entitled The Oregon Spotted Frog (Rana Pretiosa) in Lowland Western Washington, USA: A Population, Parentage & Non-Breeding Habitat Analysis investigates “the spatial relationship between breeding and non-breeding habitat utilization patterns of adult Oregon spotted frogs by using genetic sampling for one small population” at West Rocky Prairie, just south of Olympia (Waddell, 2015).

In addition to her research experience, Chelsea loved the interdisciplinary aspects of the MES program, and the focus on seminars. In her current work as the Regional Wildlife, Botany and Fisheries Data Coordinator for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), she regularly utilizes the skills she developed in Evergreen’s interdisciplinary learning environment as she works to collaborate with a variety of partners from all over Oregon and Washington. In her role, she coordinates observation and survey data for sensitive, threatened and endangered plant and animal species from hundreds of partners as well as BLM biologists. While her work is largely inside working with various databases, she still gets time outside in the field – work she considers necessary to keep her knowledge of data collection methods current.

In her role, collaboration is key. Chelsea occasionally pulls out one of her old reading assignments, The Interdisciplinary Toolbox to help her make sure she is facilitating meetings and conversations effectively.

Chelsea’s advice to current MES students, especially those who may feel unsure about the utility of a degree in Environmental Studies, is to keep trucking and do what you love. It can often take a lot of drive and persistence to follow your passions, and opportunities might arise in forms different than you imagined. If you can remain open-minded and apply the skills you have learned, then opportunities will come your way. It’s also important to keep in mind that a master’s degree doesn’t mean you can go from zero to 100 immediately. You need to set realistic goals for yourself, take advantage of professional development resources (conferences, internships, volunteerism, networking), and try not to become so focused on one goal that you overlook the skills you’re gaining through the journey.

This applies to work in the program, too. Some students come in with a thesis project already in mind, and though this is great, it can hinder their exploration of the MES program’s unique interdisciplinary qualities because they are hyper-focused on a single research goal. Chelsea’s thoughts on MES: “It’s a super unique program, and I’m really proud of being a Greener. I run into fellow Greeners often. To be successful, you need to be a self-directed learner, and to be decisive. There are so many open doors, you can get lost. Be a sponge. Take in as much as you can, and actually do the reading. There may be times when it won’t feel important, but that might be the stuff that ends up being the most relevant.”