Is it worth trying to work in conservation?

Maybe it’s just that I move in relevant circles, both out in the real world and online, but it feels like recently there has been a lot of publicity about how difficult it is to build a career in conservation. I think publicity is good, but it can obviously be demoralising to realise how many people, more educated, experienced, and qualified than you (me) are still finding it impossible to build a career.

There was a long article in Mongabay the other week that got picked up in The Guardian about the difficulties of finding work in conservation. The article picks up on a lot of key points – unpaid internships, paid-for internships, and the fact that people with advanced degrees including PhDs are still struggling to get paid for their expertise.

It’s a bit of a depressing read if you want to work in this sector. It was passed onto me by a friend who just spent three months as schools coordinator (unpaid) for Operation Wallacea in Honduras. Like lots of people I know, she’s starting to wonder whether it’s time to throw in the towel and try to build a career in something else. This can be especially tempting when you see friends who have taken the corporate job living in nice flats and doing cool things with their time off.

But there is a positive element – it’s good to see these things aired and spoken about. Hopefully it will become increasingly publicised. I’ve always said that conservation won’t always be an underfunded profession (although I’m not sure I’ll see the day). It’s just that, unfortunately, we seem to always let things get as bad as possible before governments invest the resources needed to make a difference.

This article also led me to the podcast Speak Up For Blue, which I hadn’t heard before. If you’re interested in marine conservation specifically it’s really interesting. Every week there is a happy hour podcast where professional marine biologists discuss the lighter side of their work. I haven’t listened to many but I’m excited to! In response to Mongabay’s article they did a special edition about the struggles of creating a career in marine conservation. They talk about personal problems they’ve had and their experiences both as jobseekers and hirers. I really appreciated the advice to take a job that is 50% of what you want and turn it into your dream job. Now just to find that!

If nothing else, both the existence of this article/podcast and reading the comments on them is reassurance you’re not alone. This is a mixed blessing, since it’s also a reminder of everyone else who is applying to the same jobs! To quote my mum when I sent her the Mongabay article “you’ll have to be diverse, passionate, multi-skilled, poor; or re-train to be a lawyer or a doctor”.

She’s not wrong, and she also wasn’t wrong when she followed it up with “it is too early to get put off”. There may be a  time limit on how long I can chase this particular dream for, but I’ve just graduated and I’m not even nearly there yet.

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