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Undergraduate Students - May 2008

The full version of the May CAPSScoop can be found by clicking here.


Articles in this edition

Careers in the Environment

“I don’t speak French – what can I do to find a job in Quebec?”

A Museum to Unleash the Young & Creative Mind: An Interview with Ms. Jayne Griffin

The Last Minute Summer Job Search : It Is Possible!


Careers in the Environment

by Lorna MacEachern, CAPS Career Advisor

Environmental issues are increasingly at the forefront of the major concerns facing the world today. Many students have recognized the importance of environmental issues, and are looking for ways to apply the knowledge and skills that they have acquired in university to help solve the problems we are now facing. One of the most exciting things about this sector is the incredible variety of options available within it: the choices range from becoming political activist with an organization like Greenpeace to advising municipalities on the best way to engineer a new waste removal system. As a result, it is easy to feel overwhelmed!

What are the options?

The environmental sector can be divided into 3 main areas: a) Environmental Protection, b) Conservation and Preservation of Natural Resources, and c) Environmental Sustainability. Although there are some positions which require expertise in a very specific domain, most positions in the environmental sector tends to require individuals with a wide breadth of skills. As a result the subsectors overlap somewhat, below is brief description of each sub-sector.

Environmental Protection deals mainly with restoring and protecting ecosystems and human health from human activities, including pollution and waste minimization. Jobs in this subsector usually require a sound knowledge of science or engineering, and include job titles such as like Water Quality Inspector and Soil Reclamation Scientist.

Conservation and Preservation of Natural Resources focuses on ensuring the preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity in our environment, as well as responsible development of natural resources. Students from a variety of backgrounds, including geography, wildlife biology, forestry, and ecology are attracted occupations in this subsector. Job titles include Conservation Biologist, Naturalist, and Environmental Geologist.

Environmental Sustainability is probably the broadest of the three subsectors. People employed in this sub-sector can be best described as the “Activists” in the environmental sector; they aim to support the work that is done in the other two subsectors by raising public awareness, developing public policy, and performing scientific research. As such there are occupations for students from virtually any background; job titles include: Environmental Educator, Policy Analyst, and Emerging Energy Researcher.

Where can I work?

There are numerous types of employers in the environmental sector, most of whom will hire people from more than one of the subsectors. An option that appeals to many students is working in a private consulting firm. These firms are usually small; their main function is to provide environmental assessment services for governments and private companies. Another option is working for provincial or federal environmental departments directly. Generally these departments aim to ensure that development projects are monitored, and enforce environmental regulations. If you are academically inclined and enjoy research, working in an academic institution can allow you to help develop new solutions to environmental problems.

For those who are interested in promoting change in the way large corporations behave with regard to the environment, there are two options: 1) you can work for the organization directly, usually in their environmental department, and promote change from the “inside” or 2) you can work for an organization which specializes in environmental issues, such as a lobby group or a law firm, and promote change from the “outside”. An interesting option for students interested in Aboriginal issues, is working for an Aboriginal community to assist in the settlement of land claims and the management of resources.

The Job Market

It is estimated that environmental employment represents 3.2% of Canada’s total workforce. According to research conducted by Eco Canada (an organization created by the Canada Sector Council to address human resource concerns in the environmental sector) the majority (42%) of the current environmental jobs in Canada are located in Ontario, followed by British Columbia at 18%. However, these figures only represent the current jobs; an informal survey of several job posting websites revealed that Ontario and Alberta account for over 63% of new job postings in the environment, while Quebec accounts for only 5.5%. Eco Canada projects that there with be an 11% growth in environmental jobs over the next few years, mainly due to: a) expected retirement, b) an increased demand for natural resources, c) an increase in public funding, as many of environmental positions are funded by government, and d) changes in government regulations and policies.

So what does all this mean? Since the majority of current job opening are in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia, students looking to break into the environmental sector want to consider starting their career in one of these provinces, as there will be more options to choose from and a greater likelihood of getting a career related position. Armed with experience, you will be able to take advantage of the expected growth throughout Canada, including Quebec.

The following professions are expected to be in short supply in the coming years: a) Agricultural experts, b) Biologists and Biological Technologists, c) Civil Engineers and Technologists, d) Geologists, e) Forestry Professionals, f) Inspectors in Public and Environmental Health safety, g) Policy Advisors in the Natural and Applied Sciences, and h) Urban Planners

Who is eligible for these positions?

As we have seen, positions in Environment are extremely varied; as a result students from many backgrounds are eligible. 83% of current environmental employees have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Ideally the candidate would have some formal training in Environmental studies. More technical positions tend to prefer to hire a B.Sc or B.Eng graduate. However, B.A. graduates will be considered if they have relevant experience (e.g. field work). Many of the more senior positions ask for a specialized degree related to the industry or the specific technical requirements of the position (e.g. Chemical Engineering, or Agriculture). The positions relating to Environmental Sustainability may prefer a B.A. student, who has well developed communication and analytical skills, along with an understanding of the technical issues. The important thing to do is assess how your degree and interests fit into to the various sectors.

For a long time the demand for employees in this sector was limited, only recently has it become the norm to see positions advertised on major job sites like Monster and Workopolis. Previously employers had the luxury of picking and choosing from the many students who would approach them. Students who made the effort to reach out to employers directly, through networking and volunteering had the greatest chance of being hired. This is still the case, despite the fact that the market has grown somewhat. Students who have had some relevant experience (paid or volunteer) have two advantages: additional skills, and contacts! The key to your success in the environmental sector is to NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK!


“I don’t speak French – what can I do to find a job in Quebec?”

by Nicholas Calamatas, CAPS Student Recruitment Coordinator

Without question, French is required to find a job in “La Belle Province”. However, learning French is not as difficult as one might think. Most students are able to understand basic French in their first year, yet are still unsure of their ability to converse at even the most rudimentary level. What is needed is to improve one’s confidence in speaking French - which is best accomplished with a little practice. It is also helpful to realize Montrealers are pleased to assist a novice, especially when an honest effort to communicate is being made.

While it is true Quebec employers require bilingual applicants, the level of French proficiency required may vary with the employer and with the task. Many employers have hired applicants whose French proficiency was less than fluent. They did so because the applicant had not only a strong motivation to improve their spoken French, but had also brought other skills to the bargaining table, which the employer ultimately considered valuable. Make sure to clearly identify all your skills before the interview. Going on line before the interview to identify the employer’s hidden needs is also a good idea. During the interview, be alert to any clues revealing these needs. The successful applicant will always identify, and match, their unique skills, to the employer’s need.

When proficiency and confidence have been attained, begin targeting employers in your field of study, where the spoken French would be on a more professional level.

To develop self-confidence, one must first start practicing - Here are a few tips to get started:

  1. If you are not already doing so, enroll in French conversation classes.
  2. Listen to French TV and radio, and read French newspapers aloud.
  3. If possible, cultivate French speaking friends, and practice with them.
  4. Go to a movie in French, with English subtitles. (Make sure it’s a Quebecois production - A Parisian production would have different pronunciations and expressions.)
  5. If you have access to a DVD player, play a movie, phrase by phrase, in English, then switch the language selection to French, and replay the same phrase. (Again, make sure the movie selected uses Quebecois, and not Parisian French.)
  6. Explore French Montreal, with all it has to offer, to practice your spoken French.

Remember : Errors may be common at first, but they are not the end of the world. Don’t let them, or anything else, impede your progress.

Another option for those students without skills in French is to look for summer work at McGill or Concordia. Many administrative offices have some opportunities for work during the summer. As well, many professors look for students to hire as research assistants. Most of these jobs are not advertised and are usually given to students who have made themselves known to the professor or administrative assistant in a department. So, again, networking is very important.

A Museum to Unleash the Young & Creative Mind: An Interview with Ms. Jayne Griffin

by Lucy A. Armstrong

Dr. Jayne Griffin is Director of Education at the Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Providing a wealth of informative and inspiring programmes to cultivate knowledge and imagination, I have often thought that working at such a museum would be an interesting and intriguing profession – so I called up Dr. Griffin for an interview and she sated my curiosity about what really is one of the most exciting careers anyone could possibly pursue!

L.A.: How many years have you been doing this job?

J.G: I have been Director of Education for 11 years; an educator for 31 years.

L.A.: What education do you have and how is it relevant to what you are doing now?

J.G.: I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education, a Masters in Administration and Supervision, and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. They have helped me in that different courses throughout my years of study have impacted the way that I think, and mostly helped in communication (both verbal and written). Communication has been the big piece work, since it is the basis for being a good educator. Writing my dissertation was a big factor in learning to communicate well through the written word.

L.A.: What is the Creative Discovery Museum and what exhibits and programmes do you offer?

J.G.: It is a children's museum, and we have over 25 different programmes, with exhibits in both the Arts and Sciences.

L.A.: I understand the significance of preservation and learning that is to be found in museums. Beginning at an early age, everyone needs to be cultivated in their passion for learning and discovery. What does the Creative Discovery Museum offer in this sense of contributing to society? As an educator, do you feel as though your role is one which society needs to be intellectually and culturally healthy?

J.G.: It is a place away from the home environment – away from the television, the computer, a place where children and the adults who care for them can spend quality time together. One of our most important roles is modelling for parents; we stay current with the latest research about the activities that are most beneficial to the growth of children and use that information as the basis for the design of programmes and exhibits. We have a voice in the community, and if we say something, people will listen to us and respond.

One of our missions is to provide quality innovative experiences for the kids – innovative being a key word. Another really important role is stimulating the creative spirit and natural curiosity of children. We are successful when a child goes home wanting to know more. In other educational settings, the object is often to cram as much information as possible into a child's mind, which to an extent is good, but we are much more interested in stimulating that creative spark – you need both imagination and knowledge.

My job as Director of Education is to a shepherd – I am asked to see the vision, discern the obstacles that might stand in the way of reaching that vision and support the museum's staff as we catch the vision and work toward it together.

L.A.: Fun Question: Is this Museum really MORE fun for the children or the adults? How much MESS do you get to make?

J.G.: TONS of mess! If there are children in the Museum and we go into an exhibit area and find everything straight then we have an issue! If there is a programme where there is going to be a permanent mess we'll find a way around it and make it happen anyhow, we won't let mess stop us. Really, our biggest priority is safety, and when it comes to fun and safety, we will put that first. Our biggest priority is safety and not the mess we create. As far as adults are concerned, the best adults are the ones who wear the face paint- those are the adults who are willing to be vulnerable and have fun.

L.A.: What is the most important goal that you aspire to at the end of each day? When you leave work everyday, do you take your work home with you?

J.G.: [I don't take my work home] as much as I used to. But my work is always with me, that is true for every educator. Even if I am not writing up reports and working on programmes, it is always on my mind, even if I am not physically doing it. I have a To-Do list, which is organized day-by-day, and even though I hardly ever check off everything I needed to accomplish within a day, I constantly refer back to it. I keep that list of To-Do's all the time.

L.A.: Considering the diversity of your job, does it allow you to travel and meet fascinating people? How important is networking and how do you go about it?

J.G.: Networking – it's SO important. I've got to meet some very interesting people. The strongest programmes are the ones that are collaborated with other institutions. Professional relationships need the same kind of care as personal relationships, especially in a community the size of Chattanooga. Being out there, being on boards, attending community meetings, reporting sessions, being in the know; knowing what is going on in the community is so important.

L.A.: What do you love about your job the most?

J.G.: I do love it! It's different every day. I am passionate about it...it's a hard question, it's like asking why do you love your child, there are so many things. I have ownership, I get to make decisions. I have my box and within that box I can make decisions. That is important in this organization, that everyone has their own box and can work within that. I get to plan and program work and work with people. One thing I love is watching people grow and develop, especially from the time they are hired to later on, to see them develop another level of understanding.

L.A.: What advice would you give for aspiring job searchers who are interested in this field?

J.G.: In the non-profit world, because these are community places, they are usually open all the time – 24 hours a day sometimes, with overnight programmes, 7 days a week. You don't want to do this unless you are able to work for more than 40 hours a week, not necessarily physically, but emotionally, so you need to be at a point in your life where you are willing to give that much. You also need to bring in a sense of balance. Balance can be a very elusive concept. I would never consider myself a workaholic despite the hours I put in, and although I taught in elementary school and LOVED it, I would never have considered contributing the kind of time I do now and that is true for my staff. I spend more time telling people to go home than asking them to put in more time.

You also need to get some experience under your belt – I am glad I never did this before I taught at school.

L.A.: What exhibits are you featuring at the Museum right now?

J.G.: We are just finishing Moneyville, which is an exhibit on the history, math, science, and culture of money. Then we'll get Clifford the Big Red Dog and all his adventures.

L.A.: Ok, now I get to ask MY question – when are you bringing the Peanuts exhibit back? I miss Snoopy and the Red Baron?

J.G.: We don't usually bring back exhibits – the only exhibit we brought back was Richard Scarry's “Busy Town.”

L.A.: Thank you for your time and happy Spring!

For more information on the Creative Discovery Museum, please visit: http://www.cdmfun.org/

The Last Minute Summer Job Search : It Is Possible!

by Andrea Puhl, CAPS Career Resource Consultant

Have you just put all those nasty final exams behind you and suddenly realized that you do not have a summer job yet? Although the deadline for many government grants and summer job placement programs (March 31, 2008) has passed, there are still ways to secure work for the summer. In short, there is no need to panic yet, but it is time to start your search now. A summer job is not only a way to finance your education, but also a good way to gain invaluable work experience that could put you ahead of the game once graduation rolls around. These first-hand experiences and practical skills will help pad your resume and, in the long run, a summer job can also be a way to build up your contacts and network. Most importantly, working while you’re in school acclimatizes you to the working world and gives you a real sense of what you do and do not enjoy.


In many ways, the prep work for the summer job search is the same as for any job search, and essential steps have to be followed. These include:

Figuring out where you would like to work. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What industry/sector (corporate? non-profit?) would you like to work in?
  • What type of work is ideal given your short/long term goals?
  • What company would you like to work for?
  • Do you like the outdoors, or do you want an office job? Evening? Part-time?
  • How much do you want to make?
  • Would you like to go abroad?
  • Or is any job plain good enough?

On the basis of this little ‘internal scan’, the usual job search tools have to be prepared:

  • CV
  • Cover letter
  • Getting references together
  • Complete appropriate job applications
  • Prepare for interviews
  • Prepare follow-up letters, calls, create job search networks, etc.

At CAPS, we can help prepare you and assist you to be successful along all of these rather tedious steps.We have lots of resources at your disposal that will lead to your success. Just pay us a visit or check out our website at caps.mcgill.ca for ideas.


Summer jobs, as opposed to the more serious post graduation job decisions, are a way to probe your interests. Therefore, your summer job might take you to new places and gain experiences that allow for a certain amount of creativity and adventure.

Here are some ideas, ranging from normal to “exotic”, that could be on your list of things to try out, as well as suggestions on where to look to get there! Depending on what you are looking for, one or another strategy might work for you.

The Regulars: networking ; job search sites ; company research

1. Your Immediate Network:

Your search could begin with your current network: family, friends, professors, even friends of friends – anyone you can think of. Let them know that you are looking for a summer job in your field of interest. Follow up on leads given to you by them.

2. Contact Companies, Businesses, Restaurants, Organization Directly

If there are specific companies or organizations for whom you’d like to work, give them a call. Prepare and practice the call well in advance: it has to be short and to the point: tell them who you are, what you can do, and why you’d like to work for them. You’d be surprised how many jobs are obtained using this approach.

For ideas on what to say and how to present you, check out the following resources: At CAPS: check out resources on ‘cold calls’ in section 3.14 of our library ONLINE: http://caps.mcgill.ca/tools/networking.php

3. General Job Search Tools

  • myFuture: Search the summer job possibilities listed in myFuture. Type in your regular McGill user name and password to create an account. Once this is done, you can click the “Jobs” tab and limit the position type to “summer”.
  • Check out local and national newspapers. Some links include:
  • The Career Directory (CAPS library section 5.31) has a listing of Canadian Companies that typically hire students for the summer.
  • Our subscription Jobs Jobs Jobs lists seasonal employment opportunities
  • Also, check out The Canadiann Summer Job Directory (section 5.5)

    4. Government Sites and Programs: Federal Level

    (While you may have missed some of these deadlines, you can keep these sites in mind for next year if government is where you want to be:)

    5. Some Alternative Ideas for Quebec/Montreal

    6. Opting for a Summer Job Abroad

    Summer vacations and high seasons vary from country to country. For example, while in Canada, the summer employment season tends to start May 1st, in many European countries, June or July are the months where summer work opportunities start to pop up. Some ideas are listed below:

    Working on Land:

    Summer jobs worldwide are available in a variety of areas:

    • Agricultural work
    • Hotel work & catering
    • Sports, couriers and camping
    • Voluntary work
    • Au pairs, nannies, family helps and exchanges

    For more ideas and hints on where to look for going global, CAPS has a variety of resources available to you, including the general “Summer Jobs Abroad” Guide, as well as more specific ones geared at certain countries. This material can be found in section 5.5 of the library and include contact information and listings of organizations who hire world wide.

    Working at Sea:

    Cruise Ships or Ferries:

    • Deck department (deck officer, deck cadets, navy)
    • Hotel department (secretaries, bookkeepers, receptionists, clerks)
    • Catering department (maitre d’hotel, waiters, busboys)
    • Kitchen personnel (Chefs, butchers & bakers, catering ratings, dishwashers)
    • Behind Bars (bar tenders and cocktail waiters)
    • “House”-keeping (cleaning, concierge)
    • Entertainment
    • Technical engineering

    In short, the possibilities at sea are almost as large and varied as those on land. For more information as well as contact points, consult “Working on Cruise Ships” (section 5.6) at the CAPS library. The periodical Jobs Jobs Jobs also lists Cruise Line positions.

    7. Other Tools

    More information and links to sites of interest on the www can be found on the CAPS website. Good luck with your job search and come see us if you have any questions.


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