College; now what?
July 18, 2012 8:14 AM   Subscribe

Post-college, pre-graduate school: I recently finished my undergrad program, and have found myself at a stand still. Any good organizations to help move my future along?

Certain life circumstances have left me completely untied down for the first time....ever. I'm a 23 year old male looking for an adventure that may open up my eyes to a potential career. Myself and a friend find ourselves in the same situation. We're both environmentally conscious; the pipe-dream version of the next year would include traveling around the world saving rainforests and the like. Her undergrad education supports this, my background was more medical-field relevant. I am looking for organizations that may open some doors up for us. Greenpeace is the first that comes to mind, but does anyone know of/have experience with any other organizations? Looking ahead, I see myself probably getting a masters/phd in biology or the like, pending potential job opportunities in the field rather than in the classroom/lab. I would love some experience that could get my feet wet in this arena. Thanks!!!
posted by Stan Grossman to Science & Nature (4 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Get thee to a Gap year.

Gap Yah

posted by leotrotsky at 8:52 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not really sure what you would do with Greenpeace - I've worked for them in the past and, while they do have volunteers around the world, they're mostly local volunteers working on campaigns. Were you thinking about working on a ship? That's certainly a possibility if you have the kinds of skills they need, but it tends to be quite a process to do so.

That said, here's what I typically suggest to recent grads who want to travel and volunteer - don't bother going through an organization ahead of time unless you have a very clear idea of what you want to do and with whom. What I would do is decide on where in the world you want to go - what places excite your imagination and whet your appetite for travel? Even better if they're cheap to travel in. I personally think Southeast Asia is a great place for someone who has a sense of adventure but not much travel experience or a big budget - your money goes pretty far there.

Once you're on the road and traveling, keep your eye out for volunteer opportunities. They will be everywhere. If you find a local project you think looks interesting, ask them if they need help.

Be mindful that the kind of help they want from you might not be in line with what you're expecting to do! For instance, as (I assume) native English speakers, you might be able to help the best by writing content for their website so they can get foreign donations. Sounds like you've got a medical background, which might be useful, depending.

Oh, and always expect to pay your own way. Even providing, say, room and board can be a pretty big strain on a shoestring NGO in the developing world. But the great thing about volunteering in a small village in someplace like Nepal is that your expenses will be so low that they might as well be nonexistent.

If you do want to go through an established organization, I'd suggest checking out Idealist. The University of Michigan also has a really great clearinghouse of information about volunteer/study/work-abroad programs.

Have fun!
posted by lunasol at 10:43 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Biobums contracts out biological research (it's like the biology equivalent of shovelbums, which is contract archaeology).

The Student Conservation Association has placements all over the US, especially in national parks, doing trail maintenance, interpretation, wildlife management, etc.

Be a field assistant for a graduate student doing research. Here's a page for people looking for field assistants on primate-specific projects.

Travel around the world working on organic farms - WWOOFing.

As a current grad student doing field research, my biggest piece of advice is use your time between undergrad and grad school mimicking what your intended research would be as closely as possible. I graduated a semester early and volunteered as a field assistant for a primatology project in the Amazon - fortunately, I liked it. Other people didn't and had to change their life plans.
posted by ChuraChura at 11:15 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are certainly drawbacks to each of these programs, but I did actually find Americorps to be a great thing to do with some time that really solidified a path for me career-wise if you're willing to stay within the states. It seems like maybe a state or national conservation corps may be a good fit for you, or NCCC if you can handle a little variety. A good VISTA program will get you an in into the type of organization you might like to work for, like Greenpeace, with an actual stipend (as opposed to just a regular unpaid gig).

If you're willing to make a two-year commitment, then there's also always the peace corps, which although may not be as helpful in determining where you'd like to be career-wise, will make it easier to get a U.S. government job when you complete it. As an added bonus, most of those programs offer academic stipends that can be used for either existing loan debt or be put towards future graduate school costs.

Good luck.
posted by likeatoaster at 3:29 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

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