The word “science” strikes fear into the hearts of many students. But when you look at science, not as a subject, but as a tool to make the world a better and safer place, fear gives way to resolve.

Amrita Kaur, our next pathbreaker, Environmental Consultant at Arcadis, ensures that the activities of the organization are not impacting the environment adversely and verifies that environmental laws are obeyed.

Amrita talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about being determined to pursue Environmental Science, after reading about environmental issues, inspite of her fear for mathematics !

For students, never make your career decisions based on your fear of subjects. Instead, focus on the larger goal and try to figure out what needs to be done to achieve those goals.

Amrita, tell us about Your background?

Belonging to the small industrial town of Jamshedpur, I had the opportunity to study at one of the best schools in the area. 

For most of my school life I was a below average student, just managing to pass from one grade to another. Neither was I great at sports, I was just a happy cheerful kid. 

Once I reached the 9th grade, the fear of boards started looming around. I pushed myself to study harder and voila! I realized I did enjoy studying. I managed to get a good percentage in my 10th Boards. 

But there was one subject that continued to terrify me, it was Math! ( still terrifies me). I knew I wanted to pursue science as that was something I was good at. Everyone around me told me that doing science without math made no sense as I wouldn’t get into engineering or medical without math. However, that did not bother me, because engineering and medical were the two fields I was absolutely sure I did not want to take up.

I had a keen interest in environmental science and my parents encouraged me to do research about possible career options. The more I looked, the more I came to believe that this is where my true calling was. By the time I completed my 12th Boards I had already planned what colleges to apply for and what courses caught my interest. 

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I did my Bachelor of Science (Bsc) in Environment Science, Chemistry and Zoology from Mount Carmel College, Bangalore. I then went on to complete my Master of Science ( Msc) in Environment Science from Fergusson College, Pune. 

I also did a certification in Health and Safety from NEBOSH and a Post-Graduation Diploma in Environmental Law and Policy from NLU- Delhi. I did these courses while doing my Msc. 

Recently I became a certified Internal Auditor for my current organization for ISO 9001 and 14001. 

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

My main influence was the fact that I was very weak in math, but I did love science. I did not want to give up a career in science, and explored various other possibilities. I was a sensitive child and reading about environmental issues in my text books did have an impression on me.

I was mentored and encouraged by my father. We share the same interests when it comes to environment health and safety at the workplace. He was more than happy when I chose not to take up a career in Engineering. 

Seeing everyone around me going crazy about joining IIT or medical coaching, I knew I had made the right choice. It gave me a lot of time to study and score really well in my class, from being a below average student to getting the 1st Rank in 11th and 12th Term exams. This instilled the confidence in me which I never had previously. 

My turning point was that I was under the false impression that marks do not matter. I want to state this for any student reading this right now, that marks do matter. It is not important that you rank 1st or 2nd but it is important to score average or above average. It helps you get into some of the best colleges and thus enables you to have a variety of experiences. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

While I was doing my Master’s, I decided to take up additional courses. The thought behind this was that I wanted to stand out of the crowd, by not just having a Master’s degree but a few other relevant certifications as well.

Environment and Health & Safety go hand in hand. As I was already doing a course in Environment, in order to be more industry ready I took up certifications in Health and Safety. This made my CV stand out among others, this also gave me more options to be able to apply to jobs. 

I had an out of the campus offer from Anchor Electricals, where I joined as a Management Trainee in Facility Management. I got to visit their plant where i learnt about E-waste handling. My stint with Anchor was short and I moved to my current organization Arcadis.

I have been with Arcadis for over 4 years now. I was almost a fresher when I joined, and was fortunate enough to have amazing mentors and bosses. I learnt how to work on Groundwater Remediation Reports, Spill Prevention and Control Plans, Remedial Action Plans, Health and Safety Plans, Product Stewardship etc. 

After about 1.5 years there, I was given an entire project to manage, which taught me project management. It included deciding on a budget, timeline, resources, and quality checks for my team’s work. Since then, I have been doing a mix of Technical and Managerial roles within Arcadis. 

One thing I learned while working there is that it is a small small world, and therefore maintaining good relationships with people is very important. You never know who you might cross paths with, in the years to come. So it is always advisable to be civil and courteous in your manners. 

As a fresher, you will have to go in with an open mind and a thick skin. That is your chance to learn as much as you can. Once you move up the corporate ladder no one will hand hold you anymore. You will definitely do some goof-ups, get yelled at, and at times even want to quit over a minor disagreement. Remember that these are your learning years, and you need this to become a better and more capable person.

How did you get your first break? 

My first break and even the job that I am at currently was all through networking. My campus offers were not very appealing, so I had decided to venture out on my own and see what comes my way. 

One effective way to network is to take up offline certification courses or join seminars/ webinars that give you the opportunity to interact with people who are already in the field. I wouldn’t encourage you to ask everyone to get you a break at their firms but do build a professional network and then ask if they are comfortable referring you. 

What were the challenges you faced in your career? How did you address them?

As a student of environment science, one of the biggest challenges is finding relevant opportunities. Environment as a subject, is still not given as much importance as it should. However, I feel this attitudinal shift is taking place gradually. 

Where do you work now? Tell us about your work

I currently work at Arcadis, as an Environmental Consultant. It is primarily a desk job, and since the pandemic I have been working from home. How I miss the office! Sigh!

At my organization, people are encouraged to follow their career aspirations and take on tasks/ projects that are aligned with their own goal and the goals of the organization. Amongst other things at my firm, I appreciate the culture of ‘People First’. 

Employees are treated like people and not machines. Managers are taught to have empathy and  treat their reportees in a humane way. I think in this VUCA world, humanity is of paramount importance. 

Ensuring a safe work environment is becoming a pressing need, there are enough government laws to enforce this. An Environmental Health and Safety workers job is to warrant that the activities of an organization are not impacting the environment adversely. They are also responsible for verifying that environmental laws are obeyed.

Worker safety is another aspect that is a part of the same profile, it includes creating a safe work environment, eliminating any risk arising from unsafe work and overall wellbeing of the employees. 

To give an example- during my internship in Tata Tinplate, I was introduced to the strong safety culture that exists within the factory. Anyone inside the premises always needed to have their PPE kits on. There were designated areas for walking within the factory, to make sure no one is walking in a way that exposes him or her to any machinery. They also had routine training and checks to see to it that their goal of ‘zero accidents’ was being met. 

How does your work benefit society? 

Safeguarding the environment is a noble job, everyone seems to think like that. But how many of us actually do something for it that has a long-term positive impact.

If you have the chance to be unique in your career choice and at the same time do something that brings immense value addition to the quality of life, then you should. 

I am sure there are more noble professions in this world, but for those of us who want to be a little bit worldly and still be compassionate this is the perfect career for you. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

As a parting note, I would like to say that, please focus on your studies and try to get atleast average and good scores. Have fun while you are at it!

Do not think that your choices are limited because you are not great academically. A little bit of research and good mentoring can set you on a totally unexpected and amazing journey. 

Maintain good relationships with people you cross paths with in the professional realm, it helps you build connections. 

One last tip about your future workplace is that work is supposed to be enjoyable and fun too. If you wake up everyday dreading to go into work, you probably need to start looking at a change. 

Future Plans?

I am currently doing an Executive MBA from NMIMS ( Mumbai). I took this up because I want to develop my management skills and because I absolutely am an ardent believer of “Never Stop Learning”.