For those of you drawn here by the promise of sound advice on how to land your dream job in conservation, here it is: lower your expectations.
Before I explain this somewhat cynical answer, I must disclose that I am not a career counsellor, nor do I have much personal experience in finding my dream job (I’m still a student). Nevertheless, I do believe that we can all have a fulfilling career and heaps of job satisfaction (eventually) but we, as early career conservation professionals, must acknowledge that we probably won’t get our perfect job immediately. We will have to go out there, build a career and cultivate our own perfect working environment.
While there are many aspects that make up the perfect career (autonomy, working hours, location etc.), I will simplify my argument by focussing on those three aspects which, I feel, are most relevant to conservation professionals:
Salary: This is self explanatory; the pursuit of employment cannot be separated from the pursuit of payment.
Creativity (self-expression): We all want a feeling that our jobs are… well, ours. Nobody wants to do mindless work that reminds them that they are dispensable. Not only do we impose a personal stamp on our careers when being creative, we also gain the intrinsic rewards that come with finding novel ways to solve a problem.
Make a difference: I am certain that all conservation professionals want their labour to mean something. We want to extend our influence beyond the narrow group of our immediate colleagues
A few of us will be lucky to have all three aspects in our first job, but most of us will have to settle for only two. The third missing aspect might emerge with time and experience but, to start with, we should relax our expectations and be willing to be patient while building our careers.
I’ve recently met a few inspiring people who were willing to volunteer at international conservation agencies to gain valuable experience and personal enrichment. For them, the chance to be creative and make a difference was worth delaying the gratification of a pay check. Fortunately, many of them have since been promoted to paid positions within a relatively short amount of time, so they serve as good examples that persistence will be rewarded.
Similarly, I’m sure you can fill in the gaps of careers with “salary and creativity” (e.g. Fundamental researchers?) or “salary and the chance make a difference” (e.g. Environmental consultants?). I am also sure that you can imagine how folks in these careers can acquire the missing components once they established themselves in their positions.
We may be able to have everything we want in life – just not all at once. We have to be practical, prioritise our goals and choose our own path.
These are my thoughts and I am really keen to hear what other people think. I’d love to hear the wisdom and advice of anyone who has already landed their dream job. Likewise, if you’re still searching for that dream job, please share your experiences (or frustrations) in the comments section below.