We hosted an AFE (Agriculture, Food and Environment) Career Discovery Session on Feb 14th, and these are some highlights from the talk.
Division Chair, Professor Tim Griffin, and Associate Professor Erin Coughlan de Perez shared their own personal career journeys, as well as emphasized some key career advice for AFEers.
Accept non-linear career trajectories
Professor Griffin has worked in a variety of different areas of the agriculture and food system. He is an expert in topics such as forage and range management, agronomy, and sustainable dairy farming practices. Professor Griffin made sure to tell students that one “can’t plan life”, even if it is tempting. As a believer in exploring new opportunities, he stressed to students the importance of trying out different areas of interest to grow as a professional, as well as to stay stimulated and inspired at work. Although he has been at Friedman for years, he joked that he still doesn’t know where his career journey will take him.
Professor Coughlan de Perez is currently a research director and Dignitas Associate Professor in the Feinstein International Center (FIC). After she received a BS in environmental science and international development from McGill University, she got her MA in climate and society from Columbia University and PhD from VU University Amsterdam. While in her doctoral program, she also worked for the Red Cross Climate Centre. Professor Coughlan de Perez comes with a unique perspective of the intersection of climate crises and humanitarian assistance. These experiences led her to be a perfect fit at the FIC.
The beauty of interdisciplinary education
Professor Griffin believes the ethos of the AFE program is “to help students develop the skills and expertise to be that person in the room that can think and act across boundaries.” He spoke about the challenges we face in the food and agriculture system, and that the most sustainable solutions will come from those who hold a profound understanding of the systems at play, across boundaries. He also made it clear to the AFE students that it is their job to be able to pitch their interdisciplinary degree as valuable to potential employers.
Professor Coughlan de Perez emphasized that AFE students hold valuable skillsets and knowledge that sometimes employers are not even aware they could benefit from. She shared an example of a climate analyst who landed a job at a major telecommunication company after pitching an entirely new position for himself, and demonstrating why that position would add value to the company. So even if there is no job listing, prospective employees have the potential to create a new role for themselves within an organization.
Build your skillset and prepare for practical experience
Both professors spoke about hard and soft skills that potential AFE employers look for:
- Be a “T”: have both a wide and deep understandings of different subjects
- Collect and analyze evidence and provide robust solutions
- Quantitative analysis skills
- Strong communication skills (writing, public speaking, etc.)
- Technical methods (LCA, GIS, project management skills)
What should students think about when finding an internship?
- Build your network
- Try new and interesting things
- Develop projects/products so by the end, you can say “I owned that”