[SPN-Discussion] The Economy Crashed, I Want to Work in Sustainability: Should I Go to Grad School?

Eban Goodstein ebangood at bard.edu
Wed Apr 15 10:16:35 PDT 2020

Dear Colleagues, please pass this post along to seniors and recent alums
who might be asking themselves this question. I am glad to answer questions
about Bard's grad programs,  where, given the circumstances, we have
extended the application deadline until June 1 -- Eban

Dr. Eban Goodstein /  Director, Graduate Programs in Sustainability / Bard
College / ebangood at bard.edu

The Economy Crashed, I Want to Work in Sustainability: Should I Go to Grad

By Eban Goodstein

Since March 1, the economy has gone from pretty good to really terrible,
and experts say it will be a long while before it comes back. In normal
times, here are the four reasons *not* to go to graduate school.


   You have a good job lined up—one that will provide the skills and
   experience training you need to change the world in your 20’s.

   You don’t know your general career direction. Which of the three broad
   directions do you want to pursue? Change the rules (environmental or social
   justice policy)? Change minds (sustainability education)? Or do you want to
   change the game (sustainable business)?

   You are sick of academics, and you need a break from the classroom.

   You cannot afford it.

What’s changed with the COVID-19 recession? For many graduating seniors and
recent alums, #1 has gotten much, much less likely. Facing the worst job
market in 80 years, now could be a good time to stay in school, or head
back to it. If you do, you will need to find a graduate program that helps
you gain real-world, practical experience and build your resume while in
school. In addition to the graduate degree, employers will be looking for
concrete experience solving sustainability challenges when jobs start
coming back in 2021 or 2022.

*Access our webinar recordings to learn more about how to get a job in
How to Know If Grad School Is Right for You

A couple of the rules for normal times above still hold in the coming
recession. Do not make the investment in graduate school if you don’t know
your basic career direction: (1) policy, (2) education or (3) business. You
don’t need to know the exact job you want—a good grad program will help you
figure that out—but you do have to know which of the three general career
pathways is right for you: if you want to change the rules, change minds,
or transform the game. (For more on choosing your path, see these videos
Also, do not head to graduate school if you are not ready to put in serious
effort in the classroom: grad school helps you gain skills you need, but
only if you are ready to engage.

That said, if you do know your general career direction and also have the
energy to dig in, graduate school now can be a smart decision. A good
program will help you develop skills and experience, build a professional
network, and upon graduation, turbo-charge your impact in the world. Rather
than flounder in a very bad economy, you can build the track record that in
two or three years will open doors to sustainability impact that will be
out of reach for your peers.
Look for Experience-Based Education

The central key to a good program? Experience-based education.
Sustainability is a problem-solving discipline, and cannot be learned
primarily in the classroom. Especially if you are coming right out of
undergrad, make sure your graduate program embeds serious opportunities to
gain experience and build your resume directly into the educational
program, not as one or two month “bolt-ons”. Otherwise, you can just wind
up taking two or three years of courses, which will have little value to
future employers.

At Bard’s Graduate Programs in Sustainability
<https://leadthechange.bard.edu/blog>, experience takes center stage in our
graduate education. In the M.S. degrees <https://www.bard.edu/cep/> in
Environmental Policy and Climate Science and Policy, and in our M.Ed. in
Environmental Education <https://www.bard.edu/cep/program/ms-education/>,
all of our students complete a 4 to 6-month, high-level professional
internship, working at least 30 hours a week. From June to January of the
second year, our students scatter across the planet
<https://www.bard.edu/cep/about/internship/> to do this internship work,
which then becomes the foundation for their Master’s capstone project. The
entire second year of the program thus has a focus on hands-on problem

On the business side, Bard’s MBA in Sustainability
only graduate business program in the world that requires a year-long
course in sustainability consulting, and we do it in the first year. From
September to May, students work in teams on a sustainability challenge for
a real-world business <https://www.bard.edu/mba/about/nyclab/>. As in the
Policy and Education programs, MBA’s also have a year-long capstone
<https://www.bard.edu/mba/about/capstone/> where they work one-on-one with
a faculty member to either drive an entrepreneurial vision, gain more
consulting experience, or pursue a high-level business or non-profit
internship. These kinds of embedded, serious experiential opportunities in
your graduate school will be essential for career success. If you want a
career in sustainability, do not invest in a graduate program that is
primarily just a collection of classes.
What About Affordability?

This is a serious obstacle for many people. The thing to recognize here is
that the sticker price that graduate programs feature on their websites is
negotiable. Almost all programs provide substantial fellowships, dedicated
scholarships, and work study opportunities that can cut the cost of
tuition, sometimes by more than half.

For example, at Bard we offer an Opportunity Scholarship
<https://www.bard.edu/cep/admission/financialaid/> for first generation
college attendees that can fund up to 100% of tuition. So reach out to an
Admissions Counselor at the program that interests you and see what deals
are available.
It's Good to Regroup in Order to Build for the Future

With jobs scarce and graduate school not for everyone, what’s the
alternative if you want a career in sustainability? Of course, do your best
to land an entry level job in environmental or social justice work.

But if in this historically disastrous economy you can’t get there, then
hunker down, get the best work you can, and spend the time figuring out
your career direction and gaining professional skills. Do this by
volunteering at as high a level as you can, and by interviewing,
podcasting, blogging, and otherwise staying engaged with environmental and
social justice leaders you admire. (In the political season ahead,
campaigns are great places to both build skills and your network). And
also, take the time away from school to get the mental break you need.
The World Needs Leaders Who Have Problem-Solving Experience

Ultimately, we need all of you working at the top of your game, making a
difference, soon, and at scale on climate, gender equity, access to clean
water, homelessness, food systems, ecological literacy, financial
inclusion, land stewardship, mass incarceration. As humanity works through
the COVID-19 crisis, new opportunities to address these inter-related
crises will surface. So however you do it, use the next couple of years to
tool up with new skills and problem-solving experience, and we can come out
of this difficult time on a stronger path to a sustainable future.

Dr. Eban Goodstein /  Director, Graduate Programs in Sustainability / Bard

MBA in Sustainability <http://www.bard.edu/mba>
MS in Environmental Policy and MS in Climate Science and Policy
M. Ed in Environmental Education

ebangood at bard.edu
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