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Friday, June 18, 2021

Professional networking conference Discover Your Niche goes virtual for third annual event

Discover Your Niche, organized by the UC Davis chapter of The Wildlife Society, gave students an opportunity to explore diverse wildlife career fields

The third annual Discover Your Niche Conference, a professional networking event put on by the UC Davis student chapter of The Wildlife Society (TWS), took place virtually on Saturday, May 1, 2021. 

According to TWS at UC Davis’ website, the larger organization is an international nonprofit of wildlife professionals and students. The first Discover Your Niche Conference, held in 2019, was created with the goal of giving aspiring wildlife professionals a chance to explore the broad field. 

Bruce Markman, a third-year wildlife, fish and conservation biology major and the UC Davis chapter representative of TWS, elaborated on the purpose of the event. 

“It’s called the Discover Your Niche Conference because people go into the wildlife, fish and conservation biology major not knowing what to expect,” Markman said. “Seeing what these professionals and grad students are doing [gave] undergraduates a chance to explore what they might be interested in.” 

Sophia Virata, a third-year animal science major and the vice president of TWS at UC Davis, explained that the second iteration of the event was set to take place in 2020 but was canceled due to the pandemic. 

“This year, we decided to adapt to these extreme circumstances and instead host the conference in an online format,” Virata said via email. “The event [used] the award-winning online event platform Whova, which integrates with Zoom.”

Markman explained how Whova was used to simulate as much of the experience of attending an in-person conference as possible. 

“Students [had] the ability to go from room-to-room, so they [were] free to roam like they are at a conference,” Markman said. “We [had] different rooms, a lobby, a schedule of events, and so on.”

Jenna Turpin, a third-year wildlife, fish and conservation biology major and the president of TWS at UC Davis, listed via email some of the presentations available for students to explore throughout the event. 

“Our diverse lineup of speakers [included] wildlife biologists, environmental consultants, museum scientists, non-profits, professors, graduate students, undergraduate students, librarians and career centers,” Turpin said.

Turpin emphasized that the online format did not take away from the opportunities the conference presented—in fact, it even allowed for a new diversity of attendees.

“We may have moved from Wellman to Whova, but the conference [offered] all the same opportunities,” Turpin said. “The advantage of being online is we [could] welcome attendees and speakers from all over the country.” 

Before the event took place, Markman expressed excitement about the prospect of meeting a wider range of people at this year’s conference. 

“One thing I am really looking forward to is meeting students from different schools and professionals from out of the Sac/Davis area,” Markman said. “It’s going to be a very diverse group of people.” 

Turpin detailed other benefits of the virtual platform, namely that unlike in years past, this year’s conference was completely free to attend, in part thanks to a grant from UC Davis’ Center for Student Involvement. However, attendees could choose to make a donation or buy an optional t-shirt. 

According to Virata, all funds raised during the conference were donated to Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation nonprofit.

“We decided that in addition to providing opportunities to students, we also wanted to give back and raise funds for a cause that aligned with The Wildlife Society’s mission,” Virata said via email.

She went on to reiterate what the event, as well as the club itself, seeks to accomplish.

“The conference [aimed] to provide guidance to students or people early in their professional careers,” Virata said via email. “By inviting a variety of speakers to present, attendees [could] hear about the many different paths available to them, and find potential mentors or jobs. Our club as a whole hopes to form lasting relationships with these professionals and organizations so that our members can have access to more opportunities.”

Before the event, Turpin expressed hope that throughout the conference, there would truly be something for everyone interested in a career with wildlife. 

“This conference allows aspiring wildlife professionals to get their foot in the door and hear stories from current wildlife professionals,” Turpin said. “I hope everyone who leaves the conference feels more capable of pursuing their dream job with wildlife.”

After the conference, Turpin reported the event to be a success and highlighted some of her favorite sessions.

“The conference ran smoothly and we are getting lots of positive feedback,” Turpin said. “A fan-favorite was the ‘hands-on’ session with Irene Engilis from the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology discussing specimen preparation and doing a live preparation of a mole. It seems like the attendees got a lot out of the diverse set of speakers at the conference, I know I did!”
Written by: Sonora Slater —science@theaggie.org

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