I remember the original plan: work for a couple of years after college, then go to graduate school full-time. But as I now enter my sixth year employed as an environmental biologist for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and my second year as a part-time master's student at Johns Hopkins University, I obviously chose an alternate route. I discovered that going to school part-time while working full-time can provide the best of both worlds: field work or class discussions are refreshing after a day addressing the occasional bureaucratic paperwork; likewise, my work experience keeps academics relevant, as the principles and analytical skills learned in school are critical when forming sound, science-based recommendations on the job. There are certainly compromises when splitting your time between work and school, but there is a lot to be said for the synergy of learning to be a better scientist while working day-to-day as an environmental practitioner.
A typical day for me might involve assessing impacts to wildlife habitat at a hydropower project, discussing new energy policy with the public and other agencies, attending an evening class on riparian buffers or planning logistics for Saturday's field work in restored wetlands. The schedule keeps me on my toes, and as my job constantly presents challenges (e.g., "what are the effects of an array of 200 wave energy buoys on right whales migrating through the Pacific Northwest?"), school continues to provide complementary opportunities for growth (e.g., my term paper on the effects of wave energy projects on marine mammals). And so as recent graduates consider whether to search for a job or apply to graduate programs, rest assured that there is a third option; if the elements are in place to continue to learn on the job and in the classroom, do both.
Kristen Murphy graduated from William and Mary in 2002 with a B.S. in biology, and is currently a part-time student in Johns Hopkins University's Advanced Academic Programs, which has a Washington D.C., campus, pursuing an M.S. in environmental science and policy with a concentration in ecological management.