The UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre – with Emily Dunning

Emily worked as Assistant Programme Officer at The UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre. UNEP-WCMC is the United Nations Environment Programme’s specialist biodiversity assessment arm. They provide authoritative information about biodiversity and ecosystem services in a manner that is useful to decision-makers who are driving change in environment and development policy.

Emily studied Geography at Trinity Hall, Cambridge University then worked at UNEP-WCMC from August 2009-December 2011, and spent three months working as an intern on a forest conservation programme – Programa Socio Bosque – in Ecuador.


While at uni, I found out that UNEP-WCMC existed and that it was based in Cambridge. I pestered them for work experience until eventually I did a 2-week stint with them in the Christmas holidays of my 3rd year. A job was opening up the following year at entry-level so I applied and got it.

My job at UNEP-WCMC was a fantastic first job out of university, and gave me insight into processes at an international level, top-down efforts to tackle climate change, conservation efforts in developing countries, and how complicated it is to try to tackle the issue of deforestation.

It became increasingly obvious to me that I needed to get some on the-ground experience (and because I haven’t got the travel bug out of my system yet!). It took a while to make the decision to leave such a great job but I realised I’d regret it if I didn’t and went to Ecuador, using the contacts I’d made in my job to do an internship with the government out there and go and meet loads of people working on the issues at national and local level in Ecuador.


From my experiences in Ecuador, I learnt a lot about the issues broadly and about myself and my own strengths. I realised I wanted to focus my efforts on helping efforts closer to home, working more with people day-to-day instead of doing research, helping increase collaboration and connections between people who care about social and environmental issues, and focusing more on engaging with people who are not necessarily interested in these issues yet, hopefully to get them interested!

I made the change because I find myself almost constantly reflecting about how I personally can make the maximum difference, and try to act accordingly to ensure I am.

There are obviously lots of other factors to consider as well such as salary, job security, location, what makes sense for you in your life at that particular time etc… BUT making the leap into the unknown (quitting my job and going to Ecuador), whilst scary, has resulted in me gaining more knowledge, skills, connections, confidence and also in getting a job that I believe in even more passionately than the first one!


1)      Don’t shy away from doing things that you think you’ll only dream of because of unknowns and worries that might never emerge. You’re more likely to regret not making the change and thinking “what if?”.

2)      Make the most of the contacts and connections you make at every stage of your career.

3)      Use your time at uni to do loads of ‘extracurricular’ stuff, to try new things out, meet new people, and get more on your CV. I did well in my degree but it’s the extracurricular things (most notably, Green Officer in college, and then Environmental Officer for CUSU running the “Go Greener” campaign, as well as travel, part-time jobs and practical conservation experience I gained in holidays) that I have spoken more about in interviews that proves my commitment and shows my personality, which I think has ultimately got me the jobs I’ve been lucky enough to land myself with so far.


I’m sorry, I just don’t have one…! A few favourites picked at random are: Bamboleo (Gypsy Kings), Wake Me Up (Avicii), Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell/Counting Crows) and Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison) – but the list goes on and on.

Careers Advice, Interviews, Early Years, Project Manager