I've often heard the statistics about the large percentage of college graduates whose careers are unrelated to their undergraduate majors.
A college education is valued for refining thinking and communication skills necessary for success in most careers, and, for some people, a four-year affair with their subject of choice is enough for a lifetime. I can't explain the phenomenon, but I can tell you that I am an exception.
I began building my career during my very first semester at William and Mary when I took ENST 101, the introductory course for the Environmental Science and Policy track. The academic decisions I made over the next four years were influenced by both the material I learned in ENST classes and by the guidance I received from the department's interdisciplinary group of professors.
By graduation, I had finished majors in biology and environmental science, studied abroad for a semester taking field ecology courses, and interned in environmental research for three summers. I was unsatisfied with only four years of these experiences, and imagined my future filled with more classes and field work. Consequently, my life post-WM is an extension of my life as an undergrad, and I'm still expanding on the knowledge base I acquired as a William and Mary student.
I'm a first-year grad student in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at SUNY Stony Brook, where I'll be a student for another six years. I decided to go straight for the Ph.D. after undergrad, without taking a year off and without getting a master's. I am currently taking classes, teaching undergraduate biology labs and planning my dissertation. The interdisciplinary approach of the environmental science track required that I learn not only the principles of ecology (the biological component and my primary interest), but also those of geology, chemistry, math, and even sociology and philosophy. I gained a 360 degree view of environmental issues that facilitates my success today as a student, teacher and researcher.
As a teacher, I've had the opportunity to sneak in environmental examples while covering basic topics in biology. For example, while lecturing about pH and buffers, I explained to my students how limestone foundations in lakes and soils can buffer the effects of acid rain. I remember struggling with chemistry only three years ago and wondering how any of it was important for my planned career. Now I am in a position to motivate environmentally-concerned students like me, while of course trying not to irk all of the pre-meds.
As for my own research, I'm in the process of writing a review paper on exotic forest pathogens and plan to spend my summer in California working in a lab that studies an introduced fungal disease attacking pine trees. After finishing my doctorate, I plan to remain in school and become an ecology professor, ensuring the immortality of my undergrad academic life!