Want a Career in Wildlife? Get Out There

Carlos Villamayor, Editor in Chief

In the brightness, quiet, and relative novelty of the Environmental Center Classroom, students were subject to a somewhat paradoxical piece of advice: get out there.

The priority of experiencing nature firsthand was the convergence point for all four panelists at a discussion about careers in wildlife conservation, hosted by the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences on Wed., March 25.

Prof. Jeff Martin, who teaches biology at Westchester Community College, one day was confronted by the image of himself wearing his lab coat.

“‘Where are we trying to be?’ I thought. In here, or out there?” Martin said.

He went on to say that actually doing things out there by himself was a powerful learning tool, and encouraged students to do the same. Martin also recognized the complicated politics that surround conservation efforts. He is currently a Program Administrator on the Long Island Stewardship System Committee.

Dr. Michael Rubbo, Director of Conservation Science at Teatown Lake Reservation, an environmental non-profit, experienced a similar leap from the inside to the outside when he changed his career path from chemistry to biology. After leaving college he realized that he would have to go to graduate school in order to develop the projects he wanted. Rubbo told students to pick a graduate school based on where are the professors whose research they are interested in.

Dr. Chris Nagy and Dr. Melissa Grigione had a similar beginning. They both love animals, and at one point thought of becoming veterinarians. However, that was not enough for either. Nagy realized he wanted to be outside, and Grigione realized she actually wanted to protect wild animals.

Nagy suggested that students pursue a degree level according to the job they want.

“In my case I realized that in order to do research, I would need a Ph.D., which is a big time commitment,” said Nagy, who is the Director of Research and Land Management at Mianus River Gorge, in Bedford.

He also encouraged students to take every opportunity they can to broaden themselves as individuals.

Grigione spoke about how she had applied to a graduate program at Yale at one point, but then was rejected. She considered it carefully, and eventually called the university to ask why she had been rejected. The program’s director picked up, and informed Grigione that people at his office must have made a mistake, because she had been accepted.

“When you are passionate about something, you find an opportunity,” said Grigione, who also mentioned how long it took her parents to support her pursuit of ecology and environmentalism. “There is hope.”

Grigione, a Professor and Director of the Graduate Program in Environmental Science, has conducted international research including conservation projects in South America and conservation of neotropical cats along the United States – Mexico border.

Director of the Environmental Center Prof. Angelo Spillo, who facilitated the panel, said that persistence and passion are very important to develop a career in this field.

All panelists encouraged students to show interests and aptitudes beyond what is expected of them and to stay under people’s radars, and to become better writers and communicators.