Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lindsay Olson - Graduate School at Missouri State University

Name: Lindsay Olson
Family: Walter the cat
Major & Minor:  Geography – Resource Management (comprehensive, no minor)
Year Graduated: Jan. 2010
Current Employer: Ozarks Environmental and Water Resources Institute (OEWRI)/Missouri State University (Graduate Assistant)
Length of Employment:  5 months – I began my GA and graduate education in the summer 2011 semester.
Interests and Hobbies:  My academic interest is in assessing and restoring fluvial environments including watersheds, stream systems, and lakes that have been subject to pollution or other forms of degradation. Human-environment interactions, resultant problems, and human’s approaches to solving these problems are topics I enjoy researching and learning about. Lately I have focused on the effects of excess sediment to river geomorphology as that is a major component of my thesis, which is based on the Big River, part of the heavily mined Old Lead Belt in Missouri. The best part is the field work – who wouldn’t want to spend the hot and humid Missouri summer in the river staying cool and having fun while working, versus sitting at a boring stuffy desk for eight hours a day?!
What helped you decide what route to take after graduation (i.e. graduate school or type of job)? Although I was encouraged by my professors to apply to graduate school right away, I was unsure of what I wanted to do career-wise as I was nearing the end of my undergraduate education. I chose to accept a full time position with a local GIS firm I had interned for leading up to graduation. I worked full time for about a year before I decided I was ready to take on graduate school and set myself up for a career that I will truly enjoy. I am now pursuing a Master of Science in Geospatial Sciences in Geography and Geology at Missouri State University with a plan to graduate in May, 2013.
What do you think gave you to edge to get your current position? I have a full graduate assistantship at MSU which means that in exchange for 20 hours per week of research work for OEWRI my tuition is waved and I am provided with a living stipend.  GAs of this caliber are very competitive. I definitely attribute the combination of great grades during my undergrad, a good GRE score, strong recommendations, my internship experiences, undergraduate research and presentations, and a strong application letter as reasons I was awarded this GA.
Describe your typical day at work: Graduate courses are much more self-paced than undergraduate courses. I currently have courses only on Mondays and Wednesdays, but devote time each evening and weekend to work towards the course requirements. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays I put in 20 or more hours doing research and/or field work for OEWRI. I also squeeze in a few hours per week to work on my thesis research, which at this early stage involves gathering data in the field, doing some preliminary GIS analysis, and reading 3-5 (sometimes more) relevant scholarly articles per week as I prepare to start writing my first few thesis chapters towards the end of this semester.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In five years I see myself in a resource conservation position with a government organization such as a county conservation department, the DNR or USDA NRCS. I would like my job duties to include grant writing, field work, reporting and analysis, and working with the public to implement conservation efforts. Overall I want my career efforts to be focused on working towards a healthier and properly managed environment.
What advice can you give to those who are still in school?
1.       It’s not a race to finish school. Take your time, explore and develop your interests.
2.       Get involved in undergraduate research – it’ll take you far, especially if you decided to go to graduate school. You’ll get real-world experience when you present it at conferences such as AAG or GSA and it also builds your repertoire with your professors, who provide you with recommendations and advice as you move forward with your career or education.
3.       Try to do an internship or two to see how you enjoy working in an area of interest on a daily basis. You might find out that it’s not something you enjoy doing in the long run, or you might discover you have an interest in an area you didn’t recognize at first.
I am a person with a wide variety of interests in all sorts of disciplines, so I was never that kid who said “when I grow up, I’m gonna be a ______ (fill in the blank)” and it  took me a long time to finally figure it out – and there is nothing wrong with that. When I was 18 I started out pursuing interior design. I switched to and finished an Associate’s Degree in marketing, and then drastically changed gears to complete my Bachelor’s Degree in geography. I learned the most about my interests through the three internships I completed in my undergrad – one with a planning commission as a GIS technician, one with a county conservation department as a resource inventory technician, and one with a private business providing web-integrated geospatial solutions to county governments and other businesses. These internships gave me the experience I needed to recognize what was going to make me happy doing every day. I couldn’t have known that without the internship experience, so that is why I am such a huge proponent of them.
The more experience you can get during your undergrad, whether it’s through course work that goes above and beyond, research, or internships, the better it will help you narrow down where your real interests lie and set you up for an enjoyable career in a field you love.

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