Career Planning

How to start a successful career

written by graduates from our department

1. Come Up with a Plan – And Start Early!

What kind of job are you interested in? Consulting, laboratory work, management, or research? Government, small company, big business, or non-profit? Do you prefer to work in the field or in an office? What are your strengths, talents, and skills? Are you willing to relocate, and if so, where? Consider your short- and long-term goals. Having a strategic plan will help make your job search more efficient and will likely impress contacts and potential employers.

2. Become a Member of Professional Associations

Environmental and public health professions have local and national organizations. Become a member and attend local meetings or presentations to network. Most associations also have job postings that you can access with a membership. Seek out professional organizations within your specific field (air or water quality, microbiology, policy, etc.). One of the best ways to network is to become a member and attend some local meetings or presentations.

3. Be Seen in Your Field – Attend Local and National Conferences

Annual conferences are a great way to make contacts. It may even be possible to obtain funding to attend conferences if you have research to present. Check conference schedules early to see if you can apply for travel awards. Presenting your research or even just attending a conference is a wonderful networking opportunity and can provide a way to showcase your skills.

Many professional associations have local and/or annual conferences. Check their websites. Or check the department's event calendar for some of these upcoming conferences. Sometimes a specific industry will put on conferences. For example, in the Northwest, the pulp and paper industry and the semiconductor industry have held conferences.

4. Obtain a Certification

For certain careers, such as those in Exposure Sciences, a certification will be helpful. There are a multitude of certifications out there. Certified Hazardous Material Manager (CHMM), Certified Env. Professional (CEP), Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) are a few of the major ones. Most require work experience although some let you take an initial exam without work experience (e.g. the ASP as the first step in getting the CSP). New graduates without five years experience will have to obtain an associate certification before obtaining the CSP or CIH. Obtaining an Occupational Health and Safety Technologist (OHST) certificate or Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST) certificate will reduce the amount of time needed in order to for the CSP exam. The University of Washington is not ABET-accredited so graduates will have to obtain a combination of certificates and work experience prior to sitting for the CSP or CIH. In addition, graduates will have to take the ASP exam prior to the CSP and the CAIH exam before taking the CIH exam. Certifications are a way to increase salary and marketability as Exposure Science graduates advance in their career. Finally, most management positions require a CSP or CIH.

For students in Toxicology, you may want to consider the following certificates: Certificate in Biomedical Regulatory Affairs, Certificate in Environmental Law and Regulation, Certificate in Environmental Management Certificate, Certificate in Global Health, Certificate in Public Health Genetics, Degree with Risk Emphasis.

5. Get More Training

The last thing you may want to do as a student is attend a week long, 40-hour class. But some of these are required to work in various professions and if you have them on your resume, it helps significantly and may be necessary to get certified or maintain certification. Some are offered at UW-based Northwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety and OSHA Training Institute.

6. Volunteer in Your Field (or Outside Your Field!)

Want additional training or want to meet new contacts in your field? Want to gain experience outside your field? Try volunteering as a way to supplement your education. Many non-profit organizations will readily accept volunteers.

Seek out local volunteer opportunities. Getting involved with non-profit organizations is a great way to get real-world experience, help you strengthen your knowledge in the field, aid in networking, and help complement your resume – as well as feeding that ‘want to make a difference’ factor. Some examples are: the American Lung Association (Master Home Environmentalist Program), Washington Toxics Coalition, People for Puget Sound, Sightline Institute, Toxipedia (Contribute an article!), Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, Washington State Labor Council, or Environmental Coalition of South Seattle

Non-profits/Advocacy Groups: Besides internships, getting involved with a non-profit or advocacy group

7. Do a Job Search

Use the Internet to research jobs, qualifications, necessary experience, and salaries. Some of the best job search engines use multiple sources to come up with jobs (e.g., or Check out, northwest jobs, even check listings. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t find your ideal job posted online. An Internet search is just the tip of the iceberg!

Professional associations often have job boards for its members.

Many graduates work in government. Consider federal, state, county, and local city governments. Contact the local departments you are interested in working for (health department, public utilities, ecology, parks and recreation, etc.).

If you’re interested in laboratory work or research, check universities and research institutions for openings. Funded research projects mean that people are needed as research technicians, laboratory managers, and project managers. Research projects also require people to analyze data and write grants. Look for research going on in your field of interest.

On average, the job-search takes 6 months. Take your time; you want to find the right job for you! Evaluate yourself and your interests to help guide your search and find your niche, and look for a job with room to grow!

8. Job Fairs

Job fairs are handy for actually meeting potential employers, getting an interview or finding out if internships are available. The biggest fair on campus occurs in April. Make sure you check out UW’s annual career fair and the department’s career event.

9. Informational Interviews

Do you already know where you would like to work? Do you know someone with a job you would like to have? Contact organizations or persons and request to schedule an informational interview. This gives YOU the opportunity to ask questions and really find out if a job or organization appeals to you. You can also learn what skills and experience you need to acquire for your “dream job”.

10. Refine your Resume and Cover Letter

Customize your resume for the specific job for which you are applying. Highlight skills and experience most relevant to the job. Including a cover letter is your opportunity to “sell” yourself to a potential employer.

11. Campus Resources

There are many career development resources offered by UW, many geared specifically toward graduate students.

Staff at the UW Career Center can really help out with reviewing your resume and cover letter. Ask them look it over before you start applying for jobs. Be prepared to modify your resume to be responsive to the skill sets outlined in each job listing; you may want to emphasize leadership skills for one job and technical skills for another.

They also have a number of on-going clinics and offers several career events (see UW Career Center). Our department also has a career development day.

12. Use Your Grad School Contacts

Contacts start while in graduate school. Take advantage of collaborations within your research project, lab, department, and within the University. Apply for internships if possible while you are still attending school; they can often lead to job offers later. Many students have found a job because the agency or institution they worked with during their graduate studies hired them.

Remember that you are always making an impression with a potential employer or person who can recommend or lead you to a job opportunity. Finally, consider your advisor and department faculty/staff as job resource material. They all have local, national, and often international contacts with other faculty or practitioners and may hear about unadvertised opportunities.

Stay in touch with them after graduation and keep them updated with your contact information, work status, and career developments. They want to see you successful and happy in your career choice.

13. Form a Job Search Support Group

Work with your fellow students to search for jobs. You can alert each other to jobs that suit your individual interests and skill sets. Offer to proofread each other’s resumes and cover letters. Plan informational interviews together. Your career search will seem easier with support!