Saving the Earth as a Career

hunterRating: ★★★★☆

Malcolm L Hunter Jr; David B Lindenmayer; Aram JK Calhoun. 2016. Saving the Earth as a Career. 2e. Wiley. ISBN 978 1 119 18479 9

I guess there was just too much optimism when we felt that the 1970s might be a real turning point in conservation and that, after the Stockholm Conference, people might actually see what we were talking about! Clearly, this did not work and so we still need to train people to go out and make a difference to the biodiversity of the planet (in a positive way, of course!). It’s good that, in choosing this path, we can see some way forward from those who have been before.

This slim text seeks to better focus the attention of the conservation job-seeker to those elements that are seen as crucial in such a career direction. In the space they have, they are never going to cover everything is such a diverse field but there’s enough to give the reader a real sense of what might well be needed. In fact, following the ideas presented here, the reader is going to be well prepared for a range of jobs, not just conservation. This is not to decry the text; if anything it adds to the utility of the text because conservation as a job is not dissimilar to most other jobs – there’s a well-worn path.

That path starts, as most others, at the beginning! It asks the most pertinent but difficult question right at the start – is this really what you want to do? This is fundamental to most jobs where there is a mix of money and job satisfaction. Options are not unlimited in reality despite claims to the contrary. Conservation, by its very nature, tends to attract the more focussed/dedicated types where the ability to make a difference to biodiversity compensates for less money. If it’s what you want, then you move on – get a degree. These days, most careers can change and it is far more common to make significant changes to your career trajectory. Conservation is well placed here because of the numerous branches you can get involved in and the fact that age is far less of an issue (you can be young or old, paid or voluntary etc). OK, so you want a degree – the next task is to scope out the likely best options and then their course lists (which can get quite confusing these days). The authors advise a series of steps here: start with the qualifications you need to get in (which, typically, narrows your choice of institution and course). Then, select your course and apply for admission (note – this being a US focus, UK students may well need to adapt in terms of organisations and requirements).

The next four chapters focus on university life and how to get the best degree. This is not just a case of studying to your capacity; conservation is a tough field to get into and there will always be others competing so choice is crucial. This set of chapters starts off with designing your own programme of study and moves through project work, conferences, posters and writing papers. Again, this might sound common for most degrees but the difference for conservation here is that there is a mixture of strong competition, limited spaces and the need to network. This last element is crucial. Conservation science has matured and with an increasing number of ecological organisations needing staff, the ability to communicate/network is so important. Although you still need a sound knowledge base, the skills of getting others onto your team to help you land a job might make all the difference. One cannot fail to agree with the authors who make several references over the need to communicate at all levels. The final chapter here looks at writing skills. With more societies have media and policy officers, the ability to write and speak clearly is coming to attract a premium.

The book closes with advice on finding a new job (organisation and dedication are crucial and keep working on those networking skills) and seeing the longer-term effects of your work. You might not save the planet but you may well be able to exert considerable influence on others – all steps are welcome however large/small: it’s the people that count.

Overall, a very good read. The brevity of the text does not detract from its core message – getting a job in conservation requires a plan, some flexibility, determination and a real desire to make a difference. It’s valuable to be able to hear, from those already in the job, what you need to get a toehold into this specific market (and the language it’s written in makes it that much more realistic – this is no advertising puff). It contains the sort of advice that is often missing – that it is not easy but its doable if you keep at it.

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