Alumni in ENVS

ENVS Alumni Career Profile: Michael Asch (OX’11, C’13) – How excellent preparation and a little luck pay off in job search.

Time and time again we are reminded by students and alumni that their path to studying in Environmental Sciences (ENVS) is not linear. Like many students who study in ENVS, Michael Asch (OX’11, C’13) came to Oxford/Emory with broad interests. He was able to hone those interests and create a degree that was not only meaningful, but that has ultimately led to a career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a Federal Fish and Wildlife Biologist. Catching up with Michael was a treat – while often times we work to create a narrative story with our profiles, Michael’s answers were too clever and so we simply copied his answers to our questions here for you to enjoy.

Photo courtesy of Michael Asch

How did you come to major in ENVS? I started my path as a sociology major with an ENVS minor on the Oxford College Campus. I always enjoyed working with people, but I had a lifelong fascination with the outdoors and wildlife. Somewhere between a sociology course in Ecuador with Dr. McQuaide and fisheries research with Dr. Yandle on the Atlanta campus, it clicked. Why settle when I can double up and get a major in people and the planet?

What were some of your favorite courses in ENVS and in particular, any that helped direct you to career and internship ideas? My favorite ENVS course at Oxford had to be freshwater ecology where I learned to appreciate the nuances of keying out aquatic insects for hours (days, nights, weeks?) at the lab, or learning proper techniques for shockfishing and hoping Dr. Baker wasn’t tired of my bad jokes.  On the Atlanta campus, the winner would have to be the barrier islands course (not the technical name). How many people get to say they tracked alligators on GA’s barrier islands for a class? There was a lot more to it, but there’s the teaser. Both of those courses ultimately helped steer me down my current path.

Did you conduct research in ENVS? I worked with Dr. Yandle and her team researching fisheries management. Through that research I learned about everything from ghost nets to maximum sustainable yield (MSY), and further developed a love/hate relationship with spreadsheets of course.

What campus resources did you utilize to explore internships and career? I started off pretty reluctant to utilize campus resources. Eventually with some nudging, I pushed youthful hubris aside (briefly) and dove into a multi-phase Career Center program led by Paul Bredderman. Through the workshops we covered everything from our motivations and aspirations to why dogs are better than cats (this may have been a tangent). We were asked tough questions about who we were, who we wanted to be, and how we planned to get there. If you took part in a mock interview, you found out exactly why you didn’t get the imaginary job (or why you did). If you asked for resume help, you were kindly and patiently directed to remove items like “president of the BBQ club”. Ultimately, the direction from the career center (even after I graduated) helped me refine both my marketability, but also my search image for what career would work for me.

What are you doing now? I am a Federal Fish and Wildlife Biologist in southwest Oregon. The species I spend most of my time on are northern spotted owls and gray wolves. Before moving to Oregon, I had the same title and worked primarily with greater sage-grouse in Utah. Seemingly I enjoy working with controversial species. (The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior or the U.S. Government).

I learned about the Directorate Resource Assistants Fellowship Program (DFP) while I was halfway through my graduate studies at Duke (Emory didn’t have their MS in Environmental Sciences as an option yet). It was only the third year of the DFP program at this point so it wasn’t quite as well known. Long story short, I applied, got an interview moved to Utah for a summer, put my education to good use and ultimately had a permanent job offer once I graduated. I like to downplay the amount of luck involved throughout that saga.

Finally, what is your favorite memory from being at Emory? Introducing President Jimmy Carter at his Town Hall as Dooley’s Spokesman ranks pretty high and also captures some pretty big traditions. Talk about nervous.