A growing trend among graduate students emphasizse one important fact: job as a tenure track assistant professor or research scientist may no longer be a viable option for everyone. For IGC fellows, there is one more element to consider before leaving the comfort of our graduate programs: how can we have a bigger impact on global change issues? How can we exploit our skills in other job markets and what are those lesser-known alternate career options that may represent viable choices for many of us?

With a non-traditional academic training emphasizing science communication and the science-policy interface, IGC fellows are broadening their skill set, enabling them to compete for non-traditional science job opportunities. With this in mind and a growing senior graduate student cohort that is interested in post-graduate school career and life goals, IGC fellows launched the first Professional Development for Non-academic Career Q&A Series this spring.

The first guest to join the Q&A series was John Andrews, a population biologist with the Lincoln Park Zoo. John shared his experiences and provided insights on career opportunities for PhD and master’s graduates within the zoo, aquarium and museum field. With a master’s degree focused on avian ecology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a promising academic career ahead, John decided to go back to his roots as a zoo technician. With a dashing personality and new set of skills from his graduate work and research experience in Panama and Australia, John started his job with the AZA Population Management Center at Lincoln Park Zoo in 2016. As a population biologist, John advises managers around the country as well as global conservation programs on managing ex situ populations for gene diversity retention and demographic stability. Regularly analyzing data, troubleshooting software and facilitating meetings across institutions, John’s work is far from where he got his start as a graduate student.

John spoke to the challenges of working in interdisciplinary and international teams. He also highlighted the rewards of participating in applied research and projects that have a direct impact on the management of endangered species. Additionally, he provided examples of current growing departments and job positions available in zoos and aquariums in fields such as urban ecology, human dimensions, science communication and outreach. Jobs in horticulture, education and interpretation, and basic research positions as curators are also relevant for science graduates.

Fellows had the opportunity to ask questions related to John’s day-to-day workload, work-life balance, promotion opportunities and compensation, and long-term career goals. With more than 15 IGC fellows in attendance at John’s Q&A session, it seems that fellows will be looking forward to learning more about non-academic career tracks as future Q&A guests continue to share their experiences and provide advice on job opportunities outside of academia.

Angie Estrada is a senior IGC fellow working with Dr. Lisa Belden in the Department of Biological Sciences. Her research is focused on defining strategies for in situ disease mitigation, surveillance of chytrid fungus in the environment, and the reintroduction of species kept in captive breeding programs.