So you want to be a marine conservationist?

Sam Craven, an established marine conservationist, works for Zoox as a senior programmes officer in the Philippines. Zoox is an organisation that was created to help budding marine conservationists to gain the experience and training they need to enter a career in marine conservation, and their programmes allow volunteers to get involved with a UNEP initiative, Green Fins. Sam is also a passionate diver, who still feels ‘like an utterly excited nerd’ every time she sees a species she hasn’t seen before. I picked her brains for career advice to help aspiring marine conservationists:

Is having a Masters/PhD essential when pursuing a career in marine conservation?

‘No, I don’t think it’s essential, but it depends where you want to go in your career. You wouldn’t need post graduate study to work at the grass-roots level, or run your own NGO, but some organisations (e.g. UNEP/IUCN) often require higher education professionals. I wish I’d waited and gotten some experience rather than doing a masters straight after my BSc, because I had no idea what I wanted to do.’

Strapped for cash?

Here are Sam’s top tips for aspiring marine conservationists struggling to afford postgraduate study or volunteering abroad:

  1. Research commonly required skills in your ‘dream’ job and find work that allows you the chance to develop those skills in another sector.
  2. Organise your own conservation outreach events. Beach clean ups are a great way to prove your project planning, team coordination, and education skills, and pretty cheap too.
  3. Take online courses to boost your knowledge – you can always do them outside of your current employment.
  4. Look for paid-internships; they exist!
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What would you recommend to some-one who wants to enter a marine conservation career, but has completed a degree that isn’t specifically marine science?

‘Marine conservation is becoming increasingly all about people, using sound science to change behaviours and attitudes to protect marine resources. Most conservation organisations won’t have enough funding to employ someone for every role, so you need to have a variety of skills. As long as you have good presentation and training skills, you could become a project manager, where you make sure the work is being done to the quality required, and write reports on it.

You may also need to use Photoshop to create media content and strategies, and you may also write policy, press releases and blogs. When you consider the variety of tasks involved, it’s easy to see that a marine science degree doesn’t necessarily give you all the ‘soft skills’ you need. Some of the best presentations I’ve seen have come from volunteers with completely unrelated backgrounds; they use simple, accessible terminology when discussing biology/ecology, and stakeholders respond well to this.’

I recently graduated from a marine biology degree. How can I find a job?

How to apply for a conservation job - free eBook
  1. Be proactive; look at job descriptions, and see what experience you need to get a job you may eventually want
  2. Explore LinkedIn profiles of senior level conservationists, and see what experience they have
  3. Volunteer, and ask questions!
  4. Try not to worry about getting the ‘right’ job straight after Uni
  5. Never lose sight of where you want to end up
  6. Don’t waste time – build up your experience!

What makes a good CV?

Sam’s top tip: Tailor your CV specifically to the job you’re applying for – the days where the same CV can be used for every job are behind us, so you need to adjust it to showcase your skills/experience that fit the role. 

  1. Presentation mattersA sloppy CV shows that you don’t pay attention to detail, and would probably make mistakes in your work
  2. Grammar matters- Most jobs require good writing skills; triple check your CV, and get someone else to check it too!

I’ve got a job interview! What do I do to secure the job?!

  1. Make sure it’s a two-way conversation.
  2. Read the employer’s website
  3. Ask questions about your potential work
  4. Give more than one or two word answers
  5. It isn’t just about ticking the job description boxes- the employer needs to get to know YOU and see if you’d fit into the organisation
  6. Be amiable, and don’t drift off-topic!

If you were to start your career again, is there any advice you would give to your younger self?

‘Get more experience sooner. I’d tell her to join university clubs and seek a position of responsibility – organising events, managing finances, anything! I’d tell her to take the summers to volunteer and get to know what working life is like before having to start it! I’d tell her not to do that MSc just yet, wait until she has experience she can apply to that new knowledge. I’d tell her not to worry so much, there are always opportunities, and it’s just about seizing them whenever you can. And lastly, I’d tell her that any bad experiences are just learning opportunities. Often, but always in retrospect, they are equally, if not more rewarding than the good ones. So don’t fret about making mistakes.’

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