Environmental Science Professional Development Seminar

Calla Schmidt, University of San Francisco


This two-unit seminar is for undergraduate Environmental Science and Studies students. The primary goal is to spend time thinking about what environmental science looks like out in the "real world." What do environmental scientists do? Where do they work? How do they communicate their work with each other and the public? How do you become an environmental scientist? The seminar focuses on two different objectives. The first objective is for students to gain awareness of current research in environmental science by reading scientific literature and listening to scientific talks. The second objective is for students to prepare to pursue a career in environmental science or a related field upon graduation by networking with environmental science professionals and developing and polishing application materials.

Course Size:

15-30 Students

Course Format:

Small-group seminar

Institution Type:

University with graduate programs

Course Context:

Many of the students in this course were simultaneously working full-time jobs and were familiar with general aspects of careers such as pay structures and benefits, so this course focused on providing the discipline-specific language needed to describe their experience and relate it to job postings.

This seminar was open to all environmental science students but was designed as a follow-on to the E-STEM field course.

Course Content:

This course focuses on building connections between students and environmental science professionals while helping students develop the skills to apply to environmental science careers. This seminar alternates weekly meetings with professionals and working on application materials such as CVs, resumes, and cover letters. There are short assignments due most weeks. The list below gives an overview of the different types of assignments:

  • Presentation summaries
  • First draft job application materials
  • Final draft job application materials
  • Profile of an organization/company/agency
  • Summary of informational interview

See the syllabus, at the bottom of this page, for details.

Course Goals:

For the Course Itself

This course supports the Environmental Science Program learning outcomes:

  • explain the interdisciplinary nature and complexities of environmental issues
  • apply the scientific method to environmental issues
  • skillfully communicate knowledge of environmental science
  • demonstrate knowledge of environmental conditions so as to promote active participation and social justice

For the Students

After completing this course, students will be able to:

  • Discuss a variety of current topics in environmental science research
  • Summarize and critically evaluate scientific talks
  • Apply for an internship or entry-level position in environmental science

Course Features:

In this seminar, students work through an application for an environmental science entry-level job or internship. They identify a position they would like to apply for; they develop their application materials; and they edit their own and provide feedback to their peers. The students also have guidance on "cold emailing." This seminar also uses a career portfolio which serves as a log of the key skills, training, content knowledge characteristic to each visiting professional's career path. This also included information about characteristics of different jobs (amount of time in the field/lab, day-to-day work, workplace dynamics, travel, etc.)

Course Philosophy:

Many of the USF students are familiar with the general aspects of careers such as hourly versus salary pay or benefits. This seminar provided them with ESTEM-specific career information. Within ESTEM careers, the students were also already fairly familiar with academia as a career path, so introducing them to entry- and mid-level professionals with a variety of career paths provided them with the knowledge of other paths available to them.


  • Students prepare short papers summarizing and critically assessing scientific seminars on topics related to environmental science.
  • Students prepare a cover letter and resume for a position of their choosing.

The Grade Breakdown

  • Assignments: 65%
  • Job Application Materials: 25%
  • Attendance and Participation: 10%


The Seminar Syllabus: ESTEM_PDSeminarSyllabus.docx (Acrobat (PDF) 190kB Aug25 20)


Week 1: Course Introduction

Week 2: Internships, REUs, Graduate Schools

Week 3: Resume, Cover Letters, Letters of Recommendation

  • Activity: Program Description

Week 4: No Class

Week 5: Presentation by Green Geophysics Representative

Week 6: Resume workshop

  • Activity: First Draft Application

Week 7: Presentation by Bay Institute Representative

  • Activity: Green Geophysics Summary

Week 8: Presentation by Nature Conservancy Representative

  • Activity: Week 7 Bay Institute Summary and Final Draft Application

Week 9: Presentation by US Forest Service Representative

  • Activity: Nature Conservancy Summary

Week 10: Presentation by EPA Representative

  • Activity: US Forest Service Summary

Week 11: Presentation by US Bureau of Reclamation Representative

  • Activity: EPA Summary

Week 12: Presentation by National Park Service Representative

  • Activity: US Bureau of Reclamation Summary

Week 13: Presentation by Shark Stewards Representative

  • Activity: National Park Service Summary

Week 14: No Class

  • Activity: Shark Stewards Summary

Week 15: Student Presentations

  • Activity: Employer Profile

References and Notes: