Must.Save.Earth. But how? I'm a Liberal Arts Major
October 25, 2010 6:41 PM   Subscribe

Liberal Arts Grad. Must live green. Thinking about grad schools for 2012, or "green-collar" career, or starting a biz, or something else random. Already ruled out Law School. Ideas?

--Option 1 (seemingly the most likely) - Go to (which?) grad school for (which?) Masters or PhD degree that is environmentally focused.

Something environmental is given, but I also have strong interest in Anthropology*, Economics*, Sociology* and Politics. I have nothing against science either. Wouldn't mind taking hard Science courses but I've never officially studied it so not sure how that will roll in most "Science-y" environmental degrees.

Also, Law school is right out.

*interest but no formal learning in these yet, beyond some intro classes in college and lots of extra-curricular study

--Option 2 Instead of an ivory tower education, get something from a Tech/Community college for "green collar" work.

Prefer something that I can really be out in nature, not stuck in an office etc.

--Option 3 Start a Business. Instead of investing tens of thousands of $ in an education why not invest it in a eco-friendly franchise or business opportunity?

I'm interested but how does one go about this? What are some good ones?

More info:

I'm 25, graduated with honors attaining a liberal arts degree from CSU with focus in Philosophy and Poly Sci, I also have an environmental Affairs Certificate, for what that's worth.

Starting in January I'm taking a 6 month wilderness immersion course in permaculture and wilderness awareness/survival. If that goes well then I may go for a longer course and do something in that vein (adventure ecotourism/wilderness eco-teaching/sustainability farms etc)

I've always been interested in doing something to help the environment, but it's only recently that I've decided that I HAVE to do something green, even if it's a pay cut. I'd prefer to do something relatively hands on. I'd like to have some adventure and make a difference while I'm young. Living in an office behind a computer is killing me. I've learned this after 2 years in a corporate cubical farm (and my works not all that bad... but I can't stand it)

I also learned that I'm never going to be a Lawyer (my initial thought out of college) because 1) I don't have the strict analytical mentality or drive 2) I interned in a small Environmentally focused law firm and realized how soul crushing and oppressive that was FOR THE LAWYERS.

I would love to do something that incorporates or is based on my love for Sailboats (eco tourism? Collect specimens/data?).

Prefer to be in the Pacific North West or Alaska, but anywhere on a coast is cool. Had been looking at Toronto universities.

Political activism (or maybe even running for office some day) is also high on my list, but I'm not sure where I would make the biggest impact or how (for elected office) to do it in a way that I could focus on the environment, and not a bunch of stupid wedge issues... BS.

But being realistic, the thing that I am best at is thinking, writing papers and giving presentations/lectures/speeches. *sigh* So this 6 mo. program I'm taking might be the best adventure I'll have. Academia seems the best, at least short term, choice for me

So, in the short term, what good degrees, programs and institutions are there that have a chance of helping me to make a difference and live green?
posted by DetonatedManiac to Education (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Work for the National Outdoor leadership School or Outward Bound?
posted by dfriedman at 6:44 PM on October 25, 2010

The grad school I'm in, which is Urban Planning, is big about sustainability (though I'm not). Writing and presentation is a big part of it. There's a little anthro, politics, econ and sociology thrown in (much of it is applied) and add some architecture, public policy. Might want to look into it, especially programs that have some environmental component/concentration.
posted by sandmanwv at 6:54 PM on October 25, 2010

What about a Masters in Public Policy? This will translate well into running for office, and you can make your focus an environmental one. My other suggestion was also going to be urban/regional planning.
posted by smalls at 6:58 PM on October 25, 2010

have you looked at any urban planning programs? "sustainability" is the buzz word of urban planning at the moment.

also another thing you might think about since you want to be outdoors + environmentally friendly are jobs surrounding water quality issues -- as part of water treatment systems, they need people who are trained to go out and collect samples/look at fish, do other science-y things.
posted by nanhey at 6:58 PM on October 25, 2010

Landscape Architecture is a possibility. U of Michigan has a MLA program that does not require a LA first degree, is housed in their School of Natural Resources, and has lots of crossover with the environmental policy and environmental science streams in the school. Although many schools do require a BLA or similar to get in, there may be others beyond UM that do not.

Landscape Architecture Foundation
posted by BinGregory at 7:04 PM on October 25, 2010

Also, you could WWOOF while you think about the next steps.
posted by BinGregory at 7:07 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Entry level environmental consulting work tends to pay pretty poorly, but you get to be outside. More importantly, you get a taste for the different regulatory realms (wetlands, landfills, waste sites) and which might be of most interest to you. You will already have a sense for whether you really, truly want to work outdoors, even in crummy weather, after your survival course.

It sounds like you'd be great for environmental policy-setting... if only state and local governments weren't all laying people off left and right. There are supposed to be a lot of innovations going on in the energy sector out on your coast, too, so you might look into those green collar jobs, or even starting out working in one of their offices to see what you'd be well-suited for.

I discourage going to grad school without a really strong focus and drive. Full disclosure, it worked out fine for me, and I love my job working for state environmental agency. But better to get a sense through work an internships about the Kind of work you want to do when you're done.
posted by ldthomps at 7:13 PM on October 25, 2010

I would discourage urban planning and landscape architecture, since no matter how much you "concentrate on environmental issues" you will in all likelihood be spending most of your time in front of a computer or in meetings. Nor will you necessarily be doing anything to save the planet. (My father was a landscape architect for forty years - when he managed to get outside, it would be to warehouse and office construction projects, not the Great Outdoors.)

The permaculture course you're taking sounds perfect - I'm not sure why you're asking this question now, rather than after you've spent six months engaging with your interests and meeting people who want to spend their lives doing the same things as you.
posted by theodolite at 7:23 PM on October 25, 2010

With all of your wide interests, DO NOT GO TO GRAD SCHOOL because

1. MA programs are a cash cow for universities/departments and the credential rarely makes a different in your earning potential (unless your future work pays for it, then it'd be worth it.)

2. PhD programs are so specific, you don't have enough of an idea right now as to what you want to do to really benefit from one (and even if you did, it is not a good idea right now. There are no jobs. It involves some debt, often. Just search the tag gradschool here.)
posted by k8t at 7:33 PM on October 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: theodolite - Thanks for the input. You have a good point, I noticed I said I'm looking for the 2012 school year, what I really had in mind was to (at least have some options to) start classes Fall 2011, 2 months after my 6 month program ends.

But you are right, in a perfect world I will merge into the wilds and be so contented with permaculture/hands-on living that I'll never visit an academic classroom again. On the other hand, the wilds are new territory for me, so I'm thinking I might hedge my bets by applying a few universities before I leave.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 7:34 PM on October 25, 2010

Don't go to grad school (masters or phd) until or unless you have a super sharp, focused, and realistic goal for being there. "Finding myself" doesn't cut it; "getting needed credentials and skills for such and such specific job" does.

If you want to be hands-on and maybe get dirty, do the community college green jobs route, though again you need to be realistic. Some of the programs are being started more in response to students' demands for those credentials, rather than employers' demands for people with those skills. Do the grad school route if you want a more white-collar track -- you can still sometimes be outside a lot, but that will be balanced by officey expectations.

And it might not matter to you now, but it probably will later, so you need to go in with open eyes about pay. Green jobs don't usually pay as well as more extractive fields (eg working on oil exploration) given the same skill sets and experience. Especially on the consulting and non-profit/advocacy tracks, people tend to burn out fairly early, too.

they need people who are trained to go out and collect samples/look at fish, do other science-y things.

My work is related to what you are talking about, and trust me -- although we are definitely hiring people to do those things, we are hiring people with very specific and actually quite rare skill sets. The last person I want to hire is a recent grad with no skills who wants to save the world. I want to hire that person after they have gone back to school for a super focused masters degree, or acquired the same skills over a few years on the job -- they need to have a complement of "hard" competencies to go with the good people skills and writing ability that they got as a liberal arts undergrad.
posted by Forktine at 8:15 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I do know people in urban planning whose M.S.'s have been fully-funded, so you don't necessarily have to go into debt to study it.

But the people I know who were in fields like middle-income housing development and the like had summer internships in that field. Do you have any work experience?

I might also add that you'll likely get a lot better advice about job opportunities and career ideas from your classmates and teachers in the permaculture course than you will from AskMeFi.
posted by deanc at 8:54 PM on October 25, 2010

What about a graduate degree in sustainable development? Here are some options. It seems like there's a range of emphesis from more policy oriented toward more practical/field oriented, and more hard science-y vs. more social science-y. There may be related degree programs under different names that would lead you in the same direction.
posted by drlith at 9:32 PM on October 25, 2010

Nor will you necessarily be doing anything to save the planet.

It is what you make of it. White collar environmental work of almost any sort - OP's Option 1 - will not have you out in the woods all that much, and working for the WWF or the Nature Conservancy involves just as much compromise and pragmatism and small victories in the face of They Who Would Destroy the Planet as the physical design fields.

Another credential-requiring route would be Parks & Rec Management - white collar, out in the woods, but Saving the Earth confined to what you can accomplish on the patch of land you're in charge of. County Parks and Rec departments across the country control thousands upon thousands of acres of green space that could be put to greener use under the right management. Working for a park system first would be the right place to start, and so some

Option 2 related ideas:
Putting degraded park (or other) land to greener use. Progressive city and county parks departments have ER teams that go through the wild areas of the parks, ripping, spraying and burning invasive species and establishing native ones. The Nature Conservancy also hires people for this kind of thing. Plant ID skills are important for that kind of work, but I doubt lack of a environmental-type BS would stop you getting hired. Nothing says "mission accomplished" like setting ablaze a field full of invasive exotics.

Many County Parks departments have nature centers where you could instill environmental virtue in the younger generation - Environmental/Outdoor Education. That would play to your presentation/lecturing skills. Again, people get Bachelors degrees in it that field, but I think you could still find work without one.
posted by BinGregory at 10:15 PM on October 25, 2010

ER teams = Ecological Restoration
posted by BinGregory at 3:18 AM on October 26, 2010

Sustainable/green architecture. My gf has an architecture degree (BA) and a strong interest in floral design/landscaping, and has gotten a number of volunteer and consulting offers for green building, even though it's not her field. This implies to me that there's a demand growing.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:02 PM on October 26, 2010

Go into business. Ultimately, the free market will determine to a significant extent how Green our society is. Policy planning and grad school is going to be a lot of hot air and policy papers that may not have any impact at all, or not for years. If you get on board with a Green Startup (tons in CA, Austin area, and Boston area) and help make a business successful, then you'll be making an impact immediately, and helping to move the bar overall (look at the impact that Tesla has had on the entire car industry).

A couple of types of businesses to consider:
* Geothermal heating (HUGE potential here, and some actually successful commercial heating businesses around the US doing this now).
* Carbon offsetting programs (TerraPass is my favorite there).
* LED Lightbulb manufacturing
Just to name a few.
posted by kryptonik at 12:48 PM on October 26, 2010

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