As someone who is perpetually busy, I get asked quite often how I manage my time between my responsibilities. I’ve always been a self-starter, so finding things to keep me busy is second nature to me whenever I’m in a new environment. However, I have realized that most people don’t know where to start to find opportunities in their field of study. Building a network as an undergrad is really important and can lead to some amazing opportunities if you let it.
The first step is to reflect on what it is you want to do within your field. You don’t have to settle on one answer; in fact, it might be good to have a few options. Once you have established a few options for yourself, do some research within your school as to whether any faculty or staff have experience doing those things. Then reach out to them.
Connecting with professors is one of the easiest ways to begin building a network. Most professors have prior experience in their field, which is helpful information to anyone trying to find success. Start simply by introducing yourself. I know it’s a little awkward, but they will likely see your enthusiasm as a good thing. Ask them questions about their background, pick their brains, build rapport with them. Building these relationships can turn into mentorships, internships, and potentially even a job.
This is actually how I found out what I wanted to do with my career path. In community college, I really loved my Environmental Science course, and I ended up reaching out to my professor to ask him how I could incorporate that into my Creative Writing degree. He worked at the Environmental Protection Agency for 30 years and gave me a lot of helpful advice on how to apply environmental science into my writing.
When I came to Arcadia, I knew I wanted to work in one of the faculty-sponsored research labs, so I did some research and decided that Dr. Howard’s Dendrochronology lab, where we study fire disturbance ecology with a specific focus on the forests of Sideling Hill, Md., was the one I was most interested in. I had spent a lot of my childhood trying to count the rings on tree stumps, so the fact that I had the opportunity to learn how to do that within a lab setting seemed invaluable. I reached out to him, and he told me what I needed to do to ensure I was prepared for lab work. First, I had to complete my basic Biology courses; then we would meet weekly to review the techniques of the lab, such as crossdating and identifying fire scars. He also helped me figure out that an individualized major was the right path for me. In the lab, I have made incredible connections with my fellow students as well as students from other colleges studying the same thing. We also got to work with The Nature Conservancy, a global environmental organization, headquartered in Arlington, Va. on a few projects, which was unforgettable.
Capitalizing on leadership positions has also brought me major success within my academic career. Being on the board of a club or honor society, orientation leader, writing center consultant, class president, you name it, looks good on your resume and provides you soft skills that are essential in standing out during your job applications.
I have so many stories like this, but the best advice I can give you is to do the work. So many people think internships will just fall into your lap, but that isn’t always the case. Finding internships and jobs after graduation is really challenging, but the more you apply yourself in undergrad, the more qualified you will be, and the easier it will be to land your dream job. If you’re struggling in your job search, go to the Office of Career Education and work on your interviewing skills, rework that resume, or draft a cover letter. Talk to professors about how you could be stepping up your game.
It’s hard work, at times overwhelming, but I know that the work I do now will help me with finding work in the future. Creating a network is essential to success. Utilize the resources you have now, while they’re available, and are, more often than not, free. Connect with professors, your classmates, alumni, and staff on campus and online. LinkedIn is a great place to find alumni who have found success in your field. Just don’t give up. You will find success in due time if you do the work. You got this!