My Journey At Yale
From the moment I was admitted I felt like family. I went up to Admitted Students Day in the spring to test the waters of the F&ES community. I was surprised by the openness and honesty of the current students and faculty, and I was astounded by the breadth of and depth of the other admitted students who would become my future classmates. Admitted students even got to stay for the T.G.I.F. (Thank God I’m A Forester), a long tradition of good beer and good friends, sometimes themed.
That summer I shipped off to Harare, Zimbabwe to complete my public health internship with the Clinton Health Access Initiative. I owed that internship, in part, to F&ES who had introduced me to folks from CHAI working in Haiti, and helped me through the internship process. It was unpaid (like all the good ones, right?) but F&ES and Public Health helped me secure enough funding for my trip. I returned that fall ready for my new school and my new coursework. But first, there were MODs!
MODs are a tradition dating back to the founding of the school. The three 4-day modules include GIS training, forestry measurement, urban ecology, long and short hikes, kayaking, swimming, eating, drinking, and getting to know the people you will spend almost 24/7 with for the next two years. There is a little something for everyone – from the rugged ILivedOutdoorsForFourMonths person to the IHaveNeverCampedADayInMyLife person, you will have a great time, bond, and learn quite a bit. Many students and alumni credit MODs to the ties that students form during their short time at Yale as well as the closeness of the alumni network.
After the modules and orientations we finally encroached on Kroon Hall for our first courses. The beginning of the semester at Yale is the most overwhelming, F&ES alone has over 100 courses a semester, and then there are all the other graduate and professional schools (School of Management, Divinity School, School of Public Health, Architecture, International Relations). To make your indecision worse, Yale has a “shopping” period at the beginning of every semester where students try out different courses for the first two weeks before deciding between classes. I came into the school as an MEM, but I’m not sure if I had an adequate understanding of what the degrees entailed. After my first year in public health and my great internship in Zimbabwe, my one plan coming into my first year was to get into some real research.
The previous spring T. Boone Pickens had come to talk at the Yale Law School and I had gone with some of my Office of Sustainability colleagues to listen to his proclamation that most of our economic, social, and environmental problems could be solved by switching to natural gas. Of course, it was too good to be true, but the real nail in the coffin was when a freshman student I knew went up to the mic and asked about fracking and water contamination. When he carefully evaded the question and denied it with the ease of a seasoned politician, I was immediately hooked. This seemed like a perfect mesh of public health and environmental science. So when I returned to campus to start at F&ES, I decided to delve back into fracking. It just so happened that our current Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, faculty, engineer, and hydrologist Jim Saiers – grew up in Pennsylvania and was a bit clued in on the topic. I won’t say that terror didn’t ensue when I asked him to be my adviser and switched to an MESc, but he agreed and was very helpful in introducing me to lab managers and helping me through the process of creating methodology for testing water in Pennsylvania. I also had great advising from a lecturer at Public Health who got me in touch with people on the ground in PA and helped me secure a research area. I ended up doing my water project in conjunction with a team at Yale Environmental Medicine who was surveying reported health symptoms. The medical paper is currently in review and my water report should follow soon.
I won a few funding awards from my research proposal and presented for some major stakeholders during my time at F&ES. The opportunities seemed to keep falling on my doorstep until they were piled so high I had to refuse them. I had to learn to say no. This is possibly one of the hardest things to do at Yale – everything is just. so. amazing.
I balanced my coursework and research with paid positions as well. I worked part-time at the Yale University Art Gallery teaching K-12 and giving adult tours. I TAed for the School of Public Health one year and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology the following year. I tried to attend as many of the amazing lectures by politicians, scientists, historians, TV show hosts, researchers, lecturers, and other famous people that I could. Some of my favorites were Ban Ki-Moon (he did a Gangnam Style dance for us) and Rachel Maddow (I almost cried laughing and got a picture with her at the end). But there were a lot I had to miss because of work, meetings, and classes.
You do miss out on a lot being a Joint Degree. It’s a different experience than when you’re just there for two years and encroached in a bubble. If you read my interview with Rachel Mak she talks a bit about some of the complications. Occasionally you feel like you’re off on an island by yourself, or if you’re currently the only Joint Degree of your kind you may feel like you’re squeezed between two pillars wanting you to chose which is your favorite. You might have to explain yourself, but on the flip side you’ll get a lot of really impressed expressions and a way to easily showcase your skills and your specific niche.
My experience was just one of many, there wasn’t anything extraordinary about what I accomplished during my time there. F&ESers do a lot of great things. Most work at least one part-time job or have some kind of consulting gig during their two years, and there are many F&ES research and applied environmental assistanceships available for part-time work in and around Kroon Hall. Most students also participate in student interest groups, clubs, conferences, career fairs, they have volunteer work and travel schedules, publish papers and are generally incredibly busy. It’s impossible to do it all, but we try to cover all the bases. Some of us while having spouses, families, sick parents, creating children, or starting new relationships.
When I graduated I stayed the summer in New Haven so my fiancé, Alex, could finish up his job and I could work for the Yale Art Gallery. He started a Master of Public Affairs at Cornell in the fall and I got the opportunity to do recruiting for F&ES. It definitely isn’t hard to talk about all the things I love about the school! Now we’re off to Rome, Italy for the spring semester as Alex is starting an internship with Bioversity International. I’m looking for work in Rome and networking with ex-pats and alumni in the city already. It’s amazing that there is an F&ES community in every city – as I look at working in Rome, in DC, in New York City, in San Francisco, in Portland – everywhere there are F&ESers to scope out the local environmental job scene, apartments, and networking events. Every time I visited somewhere on my recruiting trip (Denver, DC, Minneapolis, Seattle) there were F&ESers waiting on the other side to have dinner with and talk to prospective students with me. I really enjoyed meeting you all this semester and feel free to follow me on my alumni journey on Twitter @vlamers or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.