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Happiest in the great outdoors? Four career paths to consider

If you thrive in nature, spending the majority of your week in a temperature-controlled office can be a confronting prospect. And if the ocean is your number one happy place you might not flourish in a job that keeps your eyes glued to a computer screen.

So what are some careers you should consider if you don’t want to be stuck indoors? Here are four different areas that indulge a love of the great outdoors.

Environmental engineering

Environmental engineers design infrastructure and environments that are sustainable for the planet and the people. Professor Wendy Timms from Deakin’s School of Engineering says, ‘This could mean working on water supply and waste transformation projects, pressing challenges in energy and electricity, new approaches for road and rail projects, and working with irrigators, manufacturers, or mining companies for positive environmental outcomes.’

It’s a field of work that allows you to spend a lot of time outdoors. ‘Being focused on environments means every new project brings a new location where you need to understand the interaction between soil, plants, waterways, aquifers and atmospheric emissions,’ she says.

For Prof. Timms, it was a conscious choice to pursue a career that would enable her to get out and about. ‘I chose environmental engineering because I liked to travel and be outdoors,’ she explains. ‘I always have a backpack, jacket and water bottle ready with my boots and high vis. shirt, ready to hit the ground.’

Prof. Timms has worked in numerous countries around the world and has been to remote project sites in northern Canada, India, Italy, Namibia, and the Northern Territory, just to name a few. ‘I’ve worked in cities, on grassy plains, in deserts, in icy high country, wild mountains and underground,’ she says. It’s an area for those who want to work collaboratively with other professionals while developing a sophisticated understanding of how to positively impact the environment.

Construction management

Construction management is a career for people who are interested in the operational side of bringing construction projects to completion. Construction managers have a role in civil, low rise, medium rise and high rise construction. They work across commercial and residential projects and may work with volume home construction.

John Kite, teaching scholar in the School of Architecture and the Built Environment, says construction managers spend around 50% of their time outdoors. ‘You might find that a construction manager would be on the road looking at multiple projects and supervising construction teams on various locations,’ he explains. ‘A volume home construction manager might be on the road visiting 10 or 15 jobs in a year and ensuring all those jobs are being finished.’

It’s a role that appeals to problem solvers who enjoy working with many different stakeholders and keeping a number of balls in the air. ‘Construction managers do a lot of front-end work to set up the project deliverables on site including procurement contracts, suppliers, subcontractors, scheduling, estimating and ensuring that these estimates are aligned to the project,’ Kite says.

Outside of working for the big companies there’s also a lot of scope for those who want to be self-employed. ‘Becoming director/construction manager of their own construction company is a typical journey for many Deakin graduates,’ Kite says. ‘Others may enter into a partnership with one or two others, building a strong company with their background and training.’

'I chose environmental engineering because I liked to travel and be outdoors.'

Professor Wendy Timms,
School of Engineering, Deakin University

Marine science

If you like the idea of studying oceans and the organisms that live in them, you’ve probably considered marine science as a career. Dr Prue Francis, lecturer in Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, says it’s the breadth of the field that makes the marine industry so interesting. ‘A marine scientist has a multidisciplinary skill-set across all science fields such as biology, chemistry, physics, ecology, genomics and modelling,’ she explains.

Marine scientists might be found on a research vessel collecting data, snorkelling or scuba diving to monitor marine ecosystems or field sampling in a diverse range of marine habitats such as sandy beaches, estuaries, rocky shores or mangrove forests.

While most marine science careers involve spending time outside, there are some specialisations that guarantee maximum field time. ‘With careers in the marine edutourism sector you may conduct tours or collect citizen science data from underwater and hence, you would spend a lot of time snorkelling or scuba diving,’ explains Dr Francis. ‘If you became a fisheries officer or a marine park ranger you would spend a lot of time patrolling the marine and coastal environments within your jurisdiction which would involve a lot of time outdoors.’

So who thrives as a marine scientist? Basically, it’s creative problem solvers with scientific writing abilities, numerical and statistical skills, observational and communication skills. A love of teamwork and project management also helps.

Ecology and marine mapping

When you combine an ecological understanding and the ability to work with state-of-the-art technologies, you arrive at careers in marine ecology and marine mapping.

Dr Mary Young, Research Fellow in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, says marine mappers use mapping to understand how species are distributed throughout their environment and how changes in that environment may affect them (e.g. climate change, changes in fishing pressure).

‘We have to know where species are likely to be found to help us observe them using underwater visualisation techniques,’ she says. ‘We also need to map their habitats, including both the sea floor habitat (rocks, sand) and the oceanography (temperature, waves, currents, nutrients).’

Combining the observations with the data in their environment and using models to understand the correlation between species distributions and their environment allows marine mappers to predict the future based on anticipated changes in the environment.

It helps if you love being out on the water. ‘A lot of our data collection occurs on our vessel,’ Dr Young explains. ‘It’s also good if you like being underwater observing marine species in their habitat, either in person on scuba or virtually through the video collection.’

To succeed in these careers, you need a good background in spatial sciences. Think Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Global Positioning Systems (GPS), spatial statistics and acoustics. ‘You’ll also want a good understanding of ecology and oceanography,’ says Dr Francis. Strong writing and critical thinking skills are also essential.

Depending on your individual skillset and the areas you’d like to develop in, there are options to suit everyone when it comes to outdoor careers. Finding your niche will help you to create a career that you will love.

this. featured experts
Professor Wendy Timms
Professor Wendy Timms

Professor, Environmental Engineering, School of Engineering, Deakin University

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John Kite
John Kite

Teaching Scholar in Construction Management, School of Architecture and Built Environment, Deakin University

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Dr Prue Francis
Dr Prue Francis

Lecturer in Science Professional Practice,  School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University

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Dr Mary Young
Dr Mary Young

Research Fellow, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University

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