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The School of Environment teamed up with McGill Career Planning Services to launch “Green Careers Week,” a series of events designed to raise student awareness of environment jobs.
The keynote speaker, an environmental lawyer named Katia Opalka, told the audience about her experiences working in the world of “green careers.” Opalka completed both undergraduate and law degrees at McGill, and is now a specialist in Canadian environmental law as well as an adjunct professor with the School of Environment.
After completing her undergrad in history, Opalka was still unsure where her career path would lead. Certainly, she had no intention of becoming a lawyer. But reflecting back on her experience, she says, “things happen when you’re studying or doing your summer jobs, and all these twists and turns will end up becoming the story of what is your career.” In her case, she stumbled upon a summer job in 1990 working on car brakes for her uncle in Germany. Her uncle placed her in charge of creating an environmental management system for the factory, and this sparked her interest in environmental issues. Later, almost by default, Opalka decided to enter law school. When she met her husband in 1995, they decided to stay in Montreal. She realized that her best chance at staying in Montreal and supporting a family was to take a job with a corporate law firm, specializing in environment. “I became an environmental lawyer by accident,” she laughs.
Though she couldn’t have predicted her career path, Opalka thoroughly enjoys her work. However, she advises students interested in this field to remember: “it’s not enough simply to care about the planet. You need to be a useful contributor, because it’s actually quite complicated. It’s a huge field that is not in and of itself, “sexy.” You don’t always feel like you’re saving the world.”
Opalka suggests that the best way to make a meaningful contribution to environmental protection is to identify your own strengths and interests, and pursue a job in that field. “Environment is a spectrum,” she says, “with pure nature at the one end and people at the other.” If you can determine where your interests fit on the spectrum, you’ll be able to find a job niche that suits your skills, experience and personality. “You’ll be much better at your job,” she assures students, “if you are doing what you really enjoy.”