Name: Kristina H. Yamamoto
Current Job Title: Geographer
Name of Organization: United States Geological Survey (USGS)
Bachelor's Degree: Bachelor of Science, Natural Resource Management, University of California Berkeley
Graduate Degree: Master of Science, Geographic Information Systems, University of Denver
Graduate Degree: PhD Geography, University of Denver
I work as a research assistant for the USGS in Denver. Currently, some of my projects include extracting stream networks from elevation data and examining how well the decades-old mapped streams in Alaska match up with current stream positions. (I also occasionally teach a physical science course at The Women's College at DU.)
How did you get your current position?
I was at a geography conference during my first year in the PhD program at DU, and I was presenting my master's research on using satellite imagery to analyze sea turtle habitat in Turkey. After my presentation, someone from the USGS came up to me and we started talking about what I had done. By the end of the conversation, he brought up coming to work for the Survey.
In relation to graduation, when did you start the job search and when did you secure your position?
I was very, very lucky in that they were able to convert my student internship to a full time position once I finished my degree. So, I did not have to job search while I was frantically finishing up the dissertation, which made my life a lot less stressful. I am still very thankful for that.
In regard to the job search process, do you have any recommendations for current students?
It's such a hard time commitment, but if you can, try to volunteer or intern with a nonprofit, government, or even for-profit group. While I was a student, there were quarters when I was a TA, took a full course schedule, worked part-time at the USGS, taught a class of my own, and worked on my dissertation. Yes, it was stressful, and yes I barely had any free time, but I knew it would be worth it in the end. Even if the USGS hadn't been able to offer me a position, I at least would have had the experience and the contacts.
What's the strangest interview question you were ever asked? How did you respond?
Perhaps not the strangest, but the one I always hate is when you are asked about your biggest weakness. There is no great answer, and sometimes I think interviewers ask that just to see how you handle uncomfortable situations. I guess maybe that's the point.
Which aspects of your background have been most helpful in your current position?
A lot of different aspects have been helpful, including the research skills I picked up and the class material, but I think the most important thing is as a grad student, you're required to no longer be a consumer of knowledge, but also a producer. I learned about the publishing process and how to figure out things on my own and when to ask for help. These are all skills I started to develop before grad school, of course, but they are really honed in those few years.
If you were in your graduate program again, what would you do differently, if anything?
I think I had this mindset where I just had to put my nose to the grindstone and get everything done as fast as possible, and then I could live life again. So essentially, I put my life on hold, which I think is a common problem for grad students. I wouldn't have stopped being a TA or working, but I do wish I would have had more time for activities I did as a master's student, like volunteering at the animal shelter and horseback riding.
Any additional comments for current students?
Good luck! Try to find some joy in your program and classes, and aim for balance in your life.