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Case Study: Helen

Personal details
Degree:MA Honours Film Studies and International Relations Profile picture
School(s): School of International Relations, School of Philosophy, Anthropology & Film Studies
Year of Graduation:Jun-2010
National of: United Kingdom
Employment details
Organisation: Montana Conservation Corps (Americorps)
Job title: Field Crew Leader
Occupational Sector: Environmental Work
What has been your route to getting your current position?
During my final year of university I got pretty fed up with sitting indoors and staring at screens (be it film viewing or essay writing). I took a trip to the Svalbard Archipelago just prior to graduating and decided to spend more time outdoors. I found a webpage for the Montana Conservation Corps in the days leading up to my graduation, and decided then that when the next hiring round started the following year, I would be working in Montana. Eight months (and an Antarctic expedition) later, I was in Helena, Montana.
What does your job involve ?
Leadership, adaptability and a great deal of patience. My job requires that I organize a crew of seven adults and take them into the wilderness to complete different work projects for sponsors. These sponsors have included different government agencies (such as the United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Department of Environmental Quality), as well as various non profits (The Nature Conservancy being the most notable). Sometimes my crew is chainsawing trees in order to clear the way for a new trail, other times we're building or repairing fences to protect streams from animal contamination - it depends on the week. The most brutal project was a reclamation job in which we planted 7400 lodge pole pine trees in six days at an old mine site.

Whatever the project, I'm the one responsible for ensuring the safety, work standards and well being of my crew, while keeping the representatives of whatever agency we work with happy.

What are the best bits of your job ?
There are many rewarding components to the Corps experience, among them the development of physical strength, technical skills and endurance. The most rewarding aspect, however, is seeing the camaraderie that develops in a crew setting. After performing heavy physical labour in the wilderness without a shower for nine days, you know that the guy who gives you a hug on the way home is the sort of friend you can't expect to find much anywhere else.
Why were you successful?
Although I didn't know it during the season, my leadership instilled a great deal in my members (that is, according to them). We had many difficult projects in comparison to other crews, but we completed every project, everyone stayed safe and all members completed the program - which is rarely the case. Although it was often difficult, my members learned a lot from the season, and it's always a two way street - I learned from working with them, too
What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
While studying film, I made it a point to pursue other aspects of film that weren't part of the degree course. I spent one summer in New Zealand working on film projects, which gave me a huge appreciation for working in a hierarchical structure (sometimes, you just have to shut up and do what you're told) as well as learning to focus on making your own small section of the big picture the best it can be.

In my final year at St Andrews, I organized the local branch of a nationwide film festival. Both of these extracurricular experiences taught me a great deal about the importance of planning ahead for the unseen variables, being logistically competent and able to improvise. (Who made it a point to bring extra sets of shoelaces for her members in the event theirs would break in the middle of the woods? This guy - and its a good thing she did.)

What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?
Whether you worry or you don't, life goes on. Don't fuss about the direct application of any degree to "the rest of your life" - I thought I wanted to make movies (even interned at Sony Pictures in Hollywood), now I find myself in Montana working with young adults. Next fall I'm heading on to get a graduate degree in environmental engineering, which doesn't naturally follow the average film studies/international relations degree path. Whatever you do, make sure you're having fun! Work hard, play harder, and remember that the only person keeping score is you.