‘Deep Sea Dawn’ Shares Some Advice for Students

Dawn Wright (a.k.a. “Deepsea Dawn”) is Esri’s Chief Scientist as well as an ocean scientist, geographer, and GIS author. There isn’t much this neat lady doesn’t do! Her work at Esri involves formulating and advancing the intellectual agenda for the environmental, conservation, climate, and ocean sciences aspect of Esri’s work while also representing Esri to the international scientific community.

Although she works full-time for Esri, Dawn continues to maintain professorial status at Oregon State University in the geography and oceanography departments. She has worked with students many years, and as such, has some great advice to share.

Dawn Wright speaking on the plenary stage at the 2012 Esri User Conference

As someone who has worked with students for a while, why do you think an internship is so important to a student’s success?

Despite the best efforts of professors there are just some things we’ll never be able to replicate in the classroom, so that’s why an internship experience is so valuable. There is nothing like having the opportunity to interact with people in the real-world setting of a company or agency, to extend one’s GIS skills while working on projects with that organization, or certainly to pick up some completely new skills. I think an internship is also a great way for students to experience some of the different “time frames” that exist in working environments outside of the school environment. It’s one thing to be under pressure to get a term paper in on time, and yet another to see some of the other kinds of pressure that are associated with getting out the next major release of commercial software, generating results for a consulting project that may affect how and where people live, or meeting deadlines for a major conference or trade show.

If someone’s interests or career path changes while they’re in school, what would be your advice to them?

Great question! My advice would be to go with that flow and learn as much as you can about that new career path you’re interested in. Find someone in that area who is willing to give you some advice, or do the requisite Internet research to find out about blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter streams, local and regional conferences in that particular area. Talk to other students who are currently on that particular career path. And … get an internship in that area too!

What are some “mistakes” you have seen students make in terms of finding their future career?

One mistake I’ve seen students make is to get discouraged if their expectations are not fulfilled immediately. I’ve seen some expect a high-salaried position in their area of choice to be available soon after graduation, and failing that (especially in today’s economy), they want to give up. It is so worth it to be patient and stay with a particular area, especially if that’s your passion. On the flip side, I’ve also seen students take on a position that may be related to their chosen career before they are finished with their degree. I’m a real strong proponent of students finishing their entire degree program before taking on full-time employment toward a career. Not only does finishing the degree lend the full complement of knowledge available to them through coursework, thesis work, and yes, internship work, but there is little to compare with the maturity gained by a student who has seen the degree through to its ultimate completion. I’m also against college athletes entering the draft before they can finish school, but that’s a huge conversation for another day!

What is your #1 tip for a new graduate starting their career?

Be a sponge – learn all you can from the people around you. Seek out a mentor in your workplace (hopefully it’s your supervisor but oftentimes it’s an experienced co-worker). Be humble.

What is one thing you wished someone had told you back when you were in college?

Watch out for the “freshman fifteen” weight gain (in my day it was only “the freshman ten,” but it’s weight gain nonetheless)! Seriously though, I do wish someone had told me about the importance of an internship! In my day, internships were not as prevalent, nor were they as valued, but it is wonderful to see that change almost completely, especially with companies and other kinds of organizations offering such excellent internship programs. Another thought, especially for undergraduates, is that an internship does not necessarily mean you have to leave campus. There are some Esri interns who may still have a way to go before finishing their degrees, and thus additional internship opportunities may be great for them. The Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs on many university campuses is one great example.

What drew you to Esri? What’s your favorite part about Redlands?

I was very fortunate in that Jack Dangermond and Scott Morehouse asked me to come work at Esri (and the deal included the requirement that I come here to headquarters). They also asked at a perfect time in my professional life when I needed a major change. My favorite part about Redlands is the people. I love the friendly, down-to-Earth nature of the folks here in the Redlands community, which I think is a breath of fresh air in Southern California culture. The friendliness of Redlands people reminds me a lot of Oregon, which is where I moved here from.

Thank you, Dawn, for sharing your wisdom!

Students: If you want to see more from Dawn, visit her website or follow her on Twitter @deepseadawn

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