From books to woods: how summer work experience is building careers

Colby Mahood working in the field where he did reforestation surveys in Gold River, BC.
Colby Mahood working in the field where he did reforestation surveys in Gold River, BC.

Several programs at VIU help students find work experience related to their field of study during the summer; other students find it themselves. Either way, these students often return to classes with experiences that give them an advantage for the rest of their schooling, as well as their future careers.

Two students returning to VIU after summer work experience are Colby Mahood, beginning his second year in the Forest Resources Technology program, and Bijan Sametz-Asgari, completing his Bachelors of Natural Resource Protection.

Both students worked in remote areas: Mahood was based in Gold River, BC and Sametz-Asgari was in Grand Prairie, Alberta, based in Moonshine Provincial Park. Mahood worked for Western Forest Products (WFP) and performed reforestation duties, while Sametz-Asgari worked for Alberta Parks as a seasonal conservation officer.

This was Sametz-Asgari’s second summer working for Alberta Parks, he said. The first season he was in the Grande Prairie District but based out of Saskatoon Island Provincial Park. “I dealt with any and every issue inside the parks,” Sametz-Asgari said. “I never had the exact same shift twice. Over the past two seasons I have dealt with problematic wildlife, drunk campers, and even missing persons, just to list a few examples.”

Being Mahood’s first year of the Forest Resources Technology Program, he wasn’t sure what exactly to expect, but he enjoyed the trust and independence he was given, he said. “We had teams of three with a supervisor and two summer students, but I worked alone a lot,” Mahood said. “Basically we would come to a cut block, which could be from one to 70 hectares, and perform survival surveys of the trees.”

Both students found a helpful connection between their classes and their jobs, but also felt that on-the-job learning was essential.

“I have dealt with problematic wildlife, drunk campers, and even missing persons”

“When I was in first year, a second year RMOT student that worked for Alberta Parks gave my classmates and I many tips on how to do well on the interview,” Sametz-Asgari said. “RMOT is geared toward a conservation-enforcement related job. My schooling also taught me other useful skills that came in handy when on job, such as identifying wildlife species and how to use a police-style notebook.”

Sametz-Asgari also said the experience he got working last summer helped him with his classes. “One of my projects in second year was exactly the same task of what I had to do in my first year of work. I was assigned an investigation project in class. To be honest, I never looked at the marking criteria because I was so familiar with it from the previous summer,” he said.

Mahood’s classes gave him a basic understanding of the different species and trees in the area where he worked, as well as knowledge on the theories surrounding reforestation. “But first year was an overview, and we didn’t technically learn what I did in this job because second year is when we learn about silvaculture, so there was a lot of learning on the job,” Mahood said. “Since I will be actually learning about silvaculture this year, I feel like I will have a strong base of knowledge about it now because of this job.”

All in all, summer work experience has given Mahood and Sametz-Asgari a taste of the real world and let them explore what they do or do not like about particular jobs. “

For Mahood, the independence, promising opportunities, and solid training were some of the best parts of the job.“I’ve already been offered a job with WFP after I graduate,” he said. “I know I don’t want to do this exact same thing forever, but I would do it temporarily, especially since I have a pretty firm knowledge about this part of the field now.”

Bijan Sametz-Asgari says his job as a seasonal conservation officer has been very valuable and will help him when he looks for full time work.
Bijan Sametz-Asgari says his job as a seasonal conservation officer has been very valuable and will help him when he looks for full time work.

Sametz-Asgari says his summer work experience has helped him realize that he truly wants to go into conservation, and that he is on the right path. “My dream job is to be a full-time BC Conservation Officer,” he said. “All the training I got is the exact same for full-time officers. The fact that I’m already getting experience now should serve me well when I try for the very tough job competition.” Both students agreed that, being so early in their careers, they have to sacrifice some things, such as location, before they earn enough seniority to be pickier. While Sametz-Asgari said he would like to be in a more scenic area, Mahood said he would rather be in a slightly more populated area.

I guess that’s what the future’s for,” Mahood said. If you are not enrolled in a program that regularly provides assistance finding related work experience, an internship, or a Co-operative Education opportunity, there are other options  for you.

Simply arranging to meet with your professors or chair of your program can help you find work or volunteer opportunities by discussing the options you have with someone in the field. In addition, counsellors at the Career Centre are helpful sources you can use to find jobs related to your field of study. Viu.ca also has a section on working and volunteering abroad that offers information on many different opportunities that could provide worthwhile work experience in another country.

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