Let me begin by apologizing as I missed my most recent blog, I decided due to the proximity to my last day of work I would dedicate my energy to one grand final blog entry.
As I meander down my career path I seem to find riffles that carry me to tranquil pools of understanding. My time spent here with the Bureau of Land Management has more or less been a series of riffles with small intermittent pools that ultimately led me to pure satisfaction with my internship. In this case the turbulent flow was not water flowing through a channel, but rather thoughts and ideas racing through the thalweg of my mind as I developed critical personal skills at the workspace.
I was hired by the wildlife biologist to work as a geographic information systems intern. I came with a series of expectations that were highlighted in my interview as the primary and secondary duties of the position, when I arrived many of these expectations were flooded away. I struggled with the mental aspect of disappointment as rills formed in my mind about showing up to work to complete some menial tasks, including installing signs, mapping fences, and digitizing data. Rather than allowing these rills to progress into gullies that would have washed away tons of satisfaction from my acceptance of such a powerful internship opportunity, I found I was able to diversify myself and complete outlined work priorities while still gaining valuable experience.
Initially I was caught up in the fact that my mentor seemed to push me to work for the office GIS specialist, rather than for the wildlife biologist. The GIS specialist had minimal work for me to do and expected me to complete office work as it arose. When things around the office were slow, I set out on my own to find work to complete. Approaching my mentor was difficult at times due to her busy schedule. It started to become clear that this was the ultimate learning opportunity. As the season progressed I did my best to use my skills to deliver high quality product in a timely manner, while reaching out to learn as much as possible.
With August just around the corner, the summer seems to have flown by; those cold early mornings of leking season are long gone. As I reflect on my summer the negative aspects that initially engulfed me are dwarfed by the positives. I was able to work in the field and office with the forester, the archeologist, the real estate specialist, the weed manager, the range specialists, the botanist, the recreation planner, the GIS specialist, and a few of the range and weed technicians. My initial expectations of applying my skills to wildlife biology and learning about wildlife biology management were not met; however, the list of people I was able to work with wash away my expectations in unexpected learning experiences. Not only was I able to apply my skills in assisting these diverse specialists with diverse backgrounds while learning about topics I never would have otherwise been exposed to, but additionally I was able to train these specialists in some of the topics that I have a background in, GPS mapping and GIS. I feel that these aspects have combined into giving me an incredibly strong understanding of how these land managers interact together to develop and achieve management objectives.
The Conservation and Land Management program ultimately exposed me to exactly what I wanted, applied science and land management. While five months is far too short to grasp how these agencies function and how their decision making process ultimately influences several hundred thousand acres of our natural landscapes, I most definitely gained exposure to these concepts. Not only were my initial objectives of gaining federal land management experience met, but I feel I can comfortably say my personal skill set and personality grew an immeasurable amount. Since it has been barely over one year since my college commencement ceremony, this was only my second biology related job. Excited and passionate about conservation I dove into the opportunity with minimal questioning during the interview process, something I will not do again.
This experience has helped me develop a skill set in interviewing potential employers who have scheduled an interview with me. It can often be easy to lose sight of the idea that a job is a mutualistic relationship amongst individuals and their employer. The employer is seeking someone with a skill set and background appropriate to the tasks that need to be completed, while the employee is seeking respectable individuals with reasonable expectations to report to, if either becomes unsatisfied with the relationship, the situation becomes less than ideal. Using this concept as a framework, I know that any future interviews will involve a lot more than simply answering the potential employer’s questions. Additionally, I learned about what aspects of a mentor, or boss rather, do not appeal to me and more importantly how to cope with personality conflicts at the work space in a professional manner. As an individual who has been blessed with outstanding advising from previous employers and professors, I plan to advise students and hire seasonal workers to assist me with my future endeavors. Learning how to cope with a mentor I did not always get along with has taught me what I do not want to be for anyone that works for me or relies on me as a mentor. These personal developments came early in my career, and in a comfortable setting. Doubtlessly I am convinced that most individuals will learn these same skills in a similar manner at some point in their career, but for me personally I am glad to say I am advancing my career with these skill set under my belt.
In just a few days I will be moving to Flagstaff, Arizona where the skills I have learned in this position will be applied to obtaining a Ph.D. in Forestry. My aim as a research scientist is to develop research projects that provide land managers with useful information that can be applied at the landscape level. Working with the land managers in this office has given me the background needed to better relate to and conduct research that land managers will find useful. I feel many scientists lack experience working in the field of land management, despite the fact that their research is often directly related to land management. Certainly, working for the BLM has helped me understand the concept of land management and the processes land managers have to go through when making decisions.
In addition to career and personal developments, this internship ultimately gave me one of the best adventure opportunities of my life. Being from Colorado, Northern California, or even Western Nevada, is a destination that only gets talked about. This summer I was able to backpack among giant redwoods in the fresh scent of ocean air, visit high mountain lakes in the massive granite batholiths of the Trinity Alps and Sierra Nevada, wander through old growth forests in the coast range of southern Oregon, visit the majestic volcanoes of the southern and central Cascade Mountains, navigate lava tubes in the vast lava plains of the Modoc Plateau, hike along the crest of a seldom discussed fault block mountain range of rhyolite in the Warner Mountains, and soak in hot springs in the vastly empty playas of the Great Basin in Nevada. These adventurous experiences only strengthen the wonderful time I have had as a Chicago Botanic Garden employee working for the Bureau of Land Management in the Northeastern California town known as Alturas. Seeing all of these delightful new places has broadened my world view by exposing me to new places rich with unique history, ecology, geology, and scenery. The number of plants I have learned while out exploring this region dwarfs the plants I knew before coming here, not to mention my photography gallery has expanded an otherwise un-achievable amount.
There is not a doubt that the riffles and sometimes turbulent flow of the last five months has built a meander in my career that adds outstanding beauty to the bigger picture of my life. There is no such thing as a negative experience, as exposure to anything is associated with a learning opportunity. As I continue forward in my career, the Conservation and Land Management Program is something that will stand high on my recommendation list to qualified individuals. The networking opportunities associated with this internship are fruitful, from the outstanding staff associated with the Chicago Botanic Garden to the land managers and professionals that work for and alongside the federal land management agencies, the possibilities are endless. Any experience is what you make of it, so make the best of all that you do even when the situation seems to be less than ideal.
Bureau of Land Management, Alturas Field Office