RealJobs: Katherine Walsh

On Tuesday, I spent some time working on my duties as Staff Co-Chair for the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability. CACS promotes environmental management and sustainable development at UC Berkeley and advises the Chancellor on matters of the environment and sustainability as they directly relate to UC Berkeley. I was selected for this role by CACS members in December and my term runs January 2012-December 2012. When the position was pitched to me, I was very nervous about the level of responsibility and qualifications, and initially said no. Having only been here for 1.5 years, I didn’t think I was qualified or “ready”, despite knowing what an honor and incredible opportunity was being presented to me. Being chair of something with the word “Chancellor” in it really freaked me out. A colleague reminded me that there is a learning curve, just like any new position, and that there would be plenty of support from the CACS members. I changed my mind and threw my hat in the ring. Lesson learned: don’t let the fear of failure stop you from taking on a new position, a new responsibility. Simple, right? Keep in mind what my colleague said about the learning curve. You have to give yourself a chance to learn the new tasks and responsibilities, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. A year from now, I would have regretted not doing this and who knows if I would have gotten another chance to be chair.

Anyway, I met with my co-chair and a student member to put together our publicity strategies for our annual sustainability summit, to be held April 19th. This year’s summit will consist of a poster session, remarks from Chancellor Birgeneau, and a panel of UC Berkeley alumni working in the sustainability field. CACS also gives out green fund grants and awards during the summit. We have begun soliciting alumni to participate, and the TGIF and CACS projects are working on their posters. Later this week I will do a site visit of the event space and finalize our A/V needs. Last week we had our monthly Executive Committee meeting, to set the agenda for next week’s monthly CACS general meeting. This year, CACS has taken a particular interest in campus waste reduction and has been working on some zero waste recommendations to present to Chancellor Birgeneau.

Is there anything you do that you would have never assumed would be part of your job?

Being CACS chair was not something listed in my original job description. You will often find there are amazing opportunities to expand your duties as an employee beyond those listed in your job description. Back when I first started, I took a Facilitation Training course to prepare me for facilitating my committee meetings. Because I took the training, my supervisor asked me to begin facilitating our department’s weekly Manager Meetings. I now do that every Wednesday, which is great practice for my facilitation skills and an opportunity to work more closely with my department’s Managers. This is not something I expected to be part of my job but I am glad it is! If you have skills or experience that go beyond your assigned duties, work with your supervisor to take on new challenges. Research the needs or understaffed tasks of your department, and offer to take those on. You can also come up with something new, like starting an office green team.

Is there any sort of career preparation (graduate degree; internships, etc.) that is vital to your field?

For my career, having an education, and completing internships and professional development are important. I was able to get my job from having an undergraduate degree, experience from BC clubs & activities, and internships the Urban Ecology Institute and BC Office of Sustainability. Since I started at Cal, I have been able to take classes in Photoshop and InDesign to help with my publicity and design work for TGIF, and I have presented at five conferences; these opportunities have helped my professional development. Public speaking and writing skills are extremely important in the environmental field, as well as having the technical knowledge for substance. This Thursday night I will be starting a certificate program in Leadership in Sustainability and Environmental Management, which I hope will provide me with more technical knowledge and assist me with my project management duties. In the environmental field, sometimes on the job training and work experience is more valuable than the actual degree, but since new information on the environment and technologies comes out every day, it is important to take classes and get accreditations throughout your career. Someday, I hope to get LEED AP accredited and go to graduate school.

Are there any web sites or other resources that students should use if they’re interested in your field?

When you are job hunting, join listservs that cater to your interests, like AASHE, who will send out jobs as part of their weekly or monthly newsletters. Also, find companies, non-profits, schools that you are interested in working for and visit their sites directly. Sometimes the best jobs don’t get posted to the job sites and will require you to apply directly through the HR departments’ websites anyway.

Try typing key words like environmental jobs, sustainable jobs, forestry jobs, social justice jobs, etc. into Google; sounds silly, but will help you find new job-based websites.

These were my go-to sites for my job search

The best, and often times hardest, thing you can do is network. Attend conferences, meetings in your town, college events, and put yourself out there. Introduce yourself and your interests and ask people you admire if you could set up informational interviews with them. If there is a job you want, meet the person who holds it and find out how s/he got there. Always follow up with a written thank you note. A thank you goes a long way.

Most importantly, (I will probably say this in every post) don’t give up on yourself!! I could be embarrassed to admit this, but in the two years after college, I applied to 132 jobs, went on 26 interviews, and got 6 job offers. There were definitely points of rock-bottom; like having to tell your parents (again) that you didn’t get the job and yes, you will still be living at home for the next month… and the next one. And that you only have $13.48 in your bank account. And that not getting the job isn’t as bad as secretly knowing how helpless your parents feel because their child feels like a failure and there isn’t much they can do to fix it.

Trust me, you will get through it and get a job. I’m proof!

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