Like Science? STEM Jobs at Nonprofits are More Common Than You May Think, Part 1

Science Lab

When you picture a scientist, you might see a person in a white coat and safety goggles standing over a Bunsen burner in a laboratory. But, do you also see someone researching policies around unwarranted DNA searches? Or someone volunteering to build rainwater catchments in Sub-Saharan Africa?

Believe it or not, science is all around us in the nonprofit space and there are plenty of science jobs for those of you with a passion for all things STEM. Here’s some advice from a few folks working in science at nonprofits.

Wendy Robertson, Hydrogeologist and Lead Technical Advisor for Well Aware

For her day job, Wendy Robertson teaches hydrogeology and other environmental sciences at Central Michigan University. But every summer, she volunteers to help provide drinking and bathing water for villages and schools in Africa.

Robertson has been volunteering with Austin, TX based Well Aware for seven years and has worked her way up from General Technical Advisor to the role of Lead Technical Advisor. She travels once or twice a year to various Sub-Saharan African countries and helps plan and build sustainable water projects.

“By far the coolest moment of any trip is when we hit water and you get to see the faces of the community members light up, knowing that they’ll be able to wash their clothes, provide for their animals, and not be sick constantly from water borne illnesses,” Robertson says about why she keeps coming back.

Robertson earned a BS in Geological Sciences from the University of Texas, Austin, an MS in Environmental Sciences from the University of Virginia, and a PhD in Geological Sciences from University of Texas, Austin. Though her background is in geology, Robertson points out that many people who end up working on water systems also have a background in engineering. In fact, environmental science jobs are expected to grow by 11% by 2024, and hydrology opportunities are expected to grow by 7%.

Pro Tip: Interested in volunteering to help eradicate the global water crisis? Contact Well Aware if you’re a scientist or engineer interested in joining the tech team. In addition to opportunities with Well Aware, there are similar volunteer and jobs all over the world, whether you have a science degree or not.

Kareem Belt, Forensic Policy Analyst with The Innocence Project

The Innocence Project, which works to free innocent people from prison and reform the criminal justice system, employs quite a few lawyers. But they’ve got a few scientists in the mix, too.

As a Forensic Policy Analyst with The Innocence Project, Kareem Belt spends his days sifting through scientific journals to see how the latest advancements apply to the law. He’s currently working on evaluating the threshold for marijuana intoxication so states that have legalized the drug can have a guideline rooted in science.

After completing his BS in Biology from Hampton University in 2001 and his MS in forensic science from Pace University in 2007, Belt began his career in crime labs. He worked as a DNA analyst for the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in New York City and the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Crime Laboratory before transitioning to a nonprofit.

“I’ve been educated on things I’ve never thought about and have been given first hand accounts that have challenged my beliefs,” he says of his time at the Innocence Project so far. “The public sector brings a lot of people together that you wouldn’t normally expect to be in the same place.”

Belt says forensics is an interesting and varied field to go into if you are interested in science. For example, forensics jobs could be in toxicology, psychology, archaeology, or microbiology. And those with a background or interest in forensics have opportunities to work for publicly funded labs, city, state and federal agencies, research institutions, and nonprofits.

Pro Tip: If you’re interested in this field, there are more than 60 Innocence Projects across the country. While not all of them have capacity to hire scientists, there are plenty of other ways to get involved.

How to find that perfect science job

Maybe you already have a PhD and you’re ready to find a job in the nonprofit sector. Perhaps you’re in college and deciding on a major. Or maybe you have a liberal arts degree and a passion for science and you’re not sure what to do. Here are some places to start:

  • Visit Idealist.org to search nonprofit science jobs. Search “environmental science,” “public health,” or any other science term and watch as hundreds of opportunities appear.
  • Check out the Career Center at the American Association for the Advancement of Science for tips on job hunting and courses to advance your career.
  • Think outside the box. If you have a bachelor’s of arts degree but want to do something with science, look for opportunities where you can work with scientists. There are plenty of policy, communications, lobbying, and education jobs at scientific organizations that do not require a science background.

This is the first part in a two-part series about nonprofit science jobs. Stay tuned for part two!

Samantha Fredrickson HeadshotAbout the author: Samantha Fredrickson has spent the last decade working for nonprofit organizations in NY, TX, and NV. She has experience in nearly every niche of nonprofit work and received her journalism degree from the University of Nevada, Reno and her law degree from New York Law School. Follow her on Twitter @sfredrickson.

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Samantha has worked in communications and nonprofit advocacy for more than a decade. She has spent much of her career advocating for the rights of vulnerable populations. She has degrees from the University of Nevada, Reno and New York Law School.
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