“If you want a career in conservation science – attend a BES/ZSL Early Careers Workshop!”

Isabella Mandl reports from the BES/ZSL early careers workshop on establishing a career in conservation science, including publishing, communications, job applications and careers beyond academia.

BES/ZSL early career workshop
BES/ZSL early career workshop Isabella Mandl

By lunchtime our brains were buzzing. At this point, each of us had participated in two workshops and listened to presentations on pursing a career in conservation. There was a lot to take in, but no better time or place to discuss a future working in conservation than with people already working for the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the British Ecological Society (BES).

The day was organised around four major topics: how to publish your science; how disseminate your work to a broad (non-scientific) audience; how to format your CV for a non-academic career and how to apply for a job in academia. Each topic was discussed in groups of ten for 45 minutes before moving on. We were given published articles, CVs and job vacancies to discuss, before getting into our own situations and outlooks. In between group tasks, there were presentations by Dr Nathalie Pettorelli and Dr Noëlle Kümpel on their experiences and (very different) career pathways. It was intense, interesting and informative.

Given that nearly everybody was finishing their PhD or Postdoc, the knowledge and experience imparted on us was highly relevant. I finally got the long-needed input on my CV (how did I manage so far without anybody ever commenting on it?), collected some amazing tips for job applications and, most importantly, found a roomful of peers that were all in a similar situation to me.

Looking about, I realised two things: First, that this diverse young group of scientists, eager to make a difference, all had the exact same questions and worries and second, that for the first time in the centuries-old science community, this group was being given the support to deal with them. Being able to openly ask a Senior Research Fellow whether it was possible to juggle a relationship or family with the constant necessity of moving from one position to the next, or to voice worries about missing fieldwork when moving to a more senior management position was a unique opportunity for us.

Through this workshop ZSL and the BES gave us more than just the tools we will need to combat the job market: it mentally prepared us for the reality while reassuring us that it is possible to do what we wanted to do. We just had to find a way to make it work, each of us individually. That sounds harsh, but it wasn’t.  We had all expected the answers to our questions: “How does one combine family and multiple postdoc positions?” – It was incredibly difficult. “How do you deal with negative experiences in a research groups/with difficult supervisors?” – Teamwork has a lot to do with personalities and sometimes it just doesn’t fit; take home the best parts and get out quickly. “Would a research fellowship be a realistic next step after a PhD?” – In singular cases. Most would fund only researchers after having done at least one Postdoc.

Networking at the BES/ZSL Early Career Workshop
Networking at the BES/ZSL Early Career Workshop Isabella Mandl

The mood was slightly sober during lunch but every person I spoke to (and we did a lot of net-working) found it helpful to have confirmation of what they had been thinking all along. There was no quick fix, it would be a tough path but it would be a rewarding career. And most of all, we had support and each other to help us along – something, that I’m sure, we are the first generation of researchers to experience.

The coffee was as real as the situation and break-time revived quite a few tired brains. After one last group exercise, the take-home messages were summed up. The importance of reading, networking and social media was emphasized. For those of us who are not already using social media it was recommended that we use it disseminate our work – so look out for some hot new conservation science to appear on Twitter soon!

We went home a little smarter and a lot less alone. ZSL and BES are planning to organise a workshop like this every year and I can only urge everyone who is thinking of working in conservation, but doesn’t know how or where to begin, to attend. Make the best of this opportunity for finding a community of peers and a treasure chest of tips!

Isabella Mandl is a third year PhD student at the University of Bristol. She has been living in Madagascar and Sweden over the past three years, trying to learn as much about conservation as she can while writing about it. Her fieldblog can be found here  and her Twitter account is @LittleLeapers_