Making a mid-career industry shift – Angela Tomlinson, ALM, Sustainability

Angela Tomlinson graduated in May of 2023 after 2 years of full-time study.  Angela was awarded the 2023 Director’s Prize for Outstanding Research Capstone for her study of the US Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act’s ability to bring climate action, and the associated benefits of improved health outcomes and economic activity, to areas throughout the US regardless of political affiliation. This blog was written in October 2023.

I am happy to share my experience pursuing a mid-career industry shift by obtaining my Master’s degree in sustainability from the Sustainability and Global Development Practice department at Harvard Extension School. 

I came to the Harvard Extension School as a mid-career professional. My continuing education journey began in 2015, taking a course in environmental law on Coursera. After 15 online courses over three years connected to business and sustainability, I spent two years in person obtaining an International Business Certificate from Georgetown University.  By the time I had arrived at Harvard, I had successfully made the career switch to being a sustainable building consultant in my current industry, commercial building construction and development.  However, I was drawn to a deeper role in climate and my interests in the field expanded well beyond the built environment. The amazing program offered through the Sustainability and Global Development Practice department was the key to unlocking my dream career path.

I found out about the program while attending Green Biz in 2019. The program has a great reputation in the sustainability field and there are multiple factors that make this program special and unique. 

Earn your way to a Harvard Degree – What first intrigued me about the program was the ability to earn your way to a Harvard degree by excelling in the admissions courses. There is so much to learn about sustainable action and climate change. The thought of spending 1-2 years studying for a master’s degree entrance exam didn’t make sense to me.

Amazing Faculty and Classes – I was drawn in by the amazing instructors and variety of courses. Classes are taught by professionals who have excelled in their field and top tier researchers. The variety of classes allows you to customize your time at Harvard towards any climate career that you want to pursue.  

Fellow Students – Lastly, I couldn’t have been more appreciative of my fellow students.  The program is filled with leading professionals in the field, mid-career professionals, along with more traditional graduate students. I learned as much from my fellow students through active discussion sessions and collaborative working as I did with the instructors.

The program has a wide variety of classes, skills, and topics related to the many fields in sustainability and global development that you can pursue. I used job descriptions that I was interested in in order to custom tailor my education to requirements of the role I someday wanted to have. The courses I took support a career transition to the corporate side of sustainability. Using business principals and the desire for companies to achieve more to advance environmental goals. The list of my courses is provided below grouped by the major skill development area.

Corporate Sustainability Life Cycle Analysis, GHG Accounting, Corporate Sustainability (Materiality & Benchmarking)
Economics & Policy Environmental Economics, Sustainable Finance – ESG, International Political Economy
Technical Skills Climate Adaptation and Mitigation, Renewable Energy, Innovation Ecosystem and Environmental Statistics

Corporate Experience – While attending the program full time for two years, I actively searched for opportunities to gain real world experience. I met with my contacts and shared the excitement and passion around what I was learning. That led to the opportunity to create a Greenhouse Gas Account for a mid-sized User Design firm with 5 offices and creating an LLC to use high-level Life Cycle Analysis methodology to explore improving sustainability within supply chain feedstocks.

Teaching Assistant and Green Finance Research Assistant – In addition, after taking the International Political Economy of Decarbonization (a class and professor, Dr. Juergen Braunstein that I would highly recommend), I had the amazing opportunity to spend the summer as a teaching assistant for the course and then worked with the professor as a green finance researcher during my last semester. 

After graduating, I had the incredible opportunity to be a 2023 Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps Fellow. The Climate Corps is a 10-12 week fellowship program offered to graduate and post graduate students that provides a week of training and then places them within a corporate organization to help advance sustainability goals.

I could not recommend this program more highly. Over 12 weeks, I had the opportunity to complete a TCFD-aligned Climate Scenario Risk Analysis for the largest private software company in the world. This experience unlocked another experience to practice what I was learning. Equally as valuable, I am now a part of a 1000-person network of climate corps fellows, the majority of which are still working on climate change and sustainability roles. My fellow Fellows working on climate risk projects were equally my team over the 12-week fellowship and I made life long professional friendships in the program!     

[Interested in EDF Climate Corps? Harvard Extension School Career and Academic Resource Center (CARC) hosts an information session for current HES students each Fall. The 2024 Climate Corps application is now live]

I learned a lot about myself in the past two years while completing the program and working this past summer as an EDF Climate Fellow. 

  • I love to research, share information, and help solve complex problems. It is what drives me and gives me professional joy.
  • I never want to stop learning. I have so many ideas for further research developed during my time at Harvard that I am not ready to give up pursuing.
  • I love the technical work of greenhouse gas accounting and life cycle analysis. Understanding the true sustainability of a material or a process is the key to unlocking the carbon reduction needed to reduce global warming and reducing the overall environmental impact of human activity. 

Over the next year, I am going to try and build a freelance research consulting role.  One in which I can spend half my time helping clients solve problems in supply chains, sustainability finance and climate risk, and climate innovation. The other half of the time I am pursuing 2-3 research paths based on ideas for gaining a better understanding of the problems faced in sustainability.

I wish anyone who reads this the best of luck! Pursuing a climate career is not easy. It is competitive and it takes work to grow your network and gain the technical skills required to solve complex environmental problems However, if you do the work and get the most out of the experience, I believe that this program can help you to unlock your future climate dream job!

Angela, dressed in graduation cap and gown, and her husband pose smiling in front of a Harvard building
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