Reflections Post-Graduation Featuring: Sarah Parkins

What is your current job?

Transportation Planner for the Transportation System’s Planning Group at WSP in Raleigh, NC. WSP is a transportation planning and engineer consulting firm with offices across the U.S.

Sarah Parkins photographed with her colleagues from WSP. Photo Credit: Sarah Parkins

How does your job relate to the specialization you pursued in Carolina Planning? If at all?

I was a housing and community development student (HCD), so my job doesn’t directly relate, however, I think the beauty of a degree in planning is that you develop skills that can be applied to most planning fields. A lot of my daily activities require significant public engagement which, I was exposed to from several HCD courses.

What are some key skills that you use day-to-day?

Writing and graphic design are two of the most key skills I have to use on a day-to-day. Being able to edit reports and know how to write professionally is incredibly valuable and a skill that can be applied to every job. Knowing how to use Adobe products, make presentations, and generally create engaging graphics is a useful skill that can make you a great asset to a project team. Secondary to writing and design, communication skills and organizational skills are also really important, especially if you want to work in the private sector which can be very fast paced and high stress.

Is there anything that you wish you would have done differently while in school?

I wish I took a class to improve my writing and editing skills. It’s the one thing I felt was really missing from the DCRP core, but I know that UNC offers some great courses in other departments. Otherwise, I feel like I benefited from taking a variety of classes while in school, including courses in all four specializations but also classes outside the department like project management and public finance. Developing skills outside of class was also very important. My internships and volunteer experiences during grad school gave me the communication skills and professional network that helped launch my career.

What was the hardest part about transitioning from graduate school to a planning or planning related job?

Learning the difference between finding a job and finding a career. In school, I was so focused on finding a job that supported me financially and was also a good fit for my skills. Once I found it I realized there are so many options in planning and I needed to consider where I want to be in 5 or 10 years. Joining a firm with a variety of projects has given me a great perspective on the types of positions available in the field. However, having mentors and understanding my strengths and weaknesses are helping me to develop the skills needed to follow a specific career path. Making that transition from thinking 2 months out to 10 years out is really hard if you haven’t given it much thought!

What is the best part about your current job?

The mentors that I have! I think the most important aspect of any career is to have the right mentors that will give you advice and guidance. Having a variety of mentors that are at different stages in their careers will also help you to set goals and understand the paths to get there. Finding a company that values mentorship and where you feel like you fit in personality wise can help you to join a group that you can grow with.

Is there anything that you did not expect from your post graduate experience?

I didn’t expect for maintaining a healthy work-life balance to be so hard. During school, my classmates were my friends so being social was much easier, but now it’s difficult when you are busy with work. It’s also easy to want to show your value when you start a new job and to work as hard as possible, but that’s an easy way to get burnt out fast. The best bit of advice I’ve gotten, is that the work will always be there so you need to take time for yourself, which came from my manager.

Is there anything else you would like to tell me about your experiences after graduation?

It’s really important to stay connected to your alumni network post-graduation! Go to APA mixers, receptions at conferences, and events in New East after graduation. My alumni network has helped me pass the AICP exam, connected me to mentors, and given me a place to go to for help and advice. Also, make sure that you connect with the alumni community while you are still in school. Most alumni love to help out current students, and making those connections early can help you find the right job faster.

Featured Image: WSP

About the Author: Sarah Parkins graduated from the Master’s program at UNC’s Department of City and Regional Planning, concentrating in housing and community development. She has a bachelor’s degree in architecture, and her current academic interests include affordable housing and placemaking. Sarah likes baking and DIY-ing her way through Pinterest.