This summer has been defined by “the pivot.” Right before the summer started, I finished bargaining a huge labor contract for graduate employees at Oregon State University (OSU), where I’m getting my PhD. So in my free time this summer, I refocused my social justice work on getting Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores removed from my department’s entrance requirements (success there!), helping international graduate employees receive their $500 Visa credit we bargained to include in our labor contract, and joining the Black Lives Matters protests.
For work this summer, I originally thought I’d be teaching as a graduate teaching assistant through OSU. Then I got an amazing internship opportunity with the US Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) in Portland, Oregon. Then the internship went remote, so I got to stay safely in my home and work during a pandemic. Yay! This internship has given me an introduction to the variety of “hats that I could wear” in the USFWS. I look forward to looking for jobs with the USFWS once I graduate. But the pivoting continues, because I was also offered a post-doctoral position at Florida International University (likely remote) to research how race influences water management in Florida. Luckily, the direct hiring authority associated with the USFWS internship is valid for 2 years. I have time to complete my post-doc while also looking and applying for USFWS jobs. But first, I must graduate! In order to graduate this December, I’ve been working 4 days/week for 10 hours each and spending Fridays and weekends working on my dissertation. On top of it all, I became a dog mom this summer! River Monster does not approve of 10-hour workdays that do not end in a bike ride or river float! It has truly been a summer of wild pivots.
Aside from my pup, the Hispanic Access Foundation and many USFWS employees have helped me maintain balance this summer. The kindness and hopefulness of these folks have encouraged me to pivot my career as well. I entered my PhD program wanting to pursue a career in academia as a professor. Over the last few years, I’ve become less and less enthusiastic about the work culture of higher education. To be completely honest, I find it toxic. While some people find and spread joy in academia, they are singular bright spots, having to work extremely hard to spread their positive energy and push against harmful institutional structures. In contrast, most of the people I have engaged with in the USFWS seem happy and supported by their institution! As the social inequities of America have been highlighted this summer by the pandemic and police brutality, USFWS employees have talked about how they can be agents of social change. Many are hopeful that they can continue to do good conservation work and replace themselves when they retire with a contingency of people who better reflect American demographics.
That’s a work culture that excites me, but first, to graduate!
Thank you, Erin Abernethy
Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service - DFP
Location: Portland Regional Office