Masters in Conservation Leadership – Cambridge University

The world is currently facing rapid changes that are triggering conservation crises at a global scale. There is an increasing need for conservation leaders who can tackle the major issues and drive change for a more sustainable future. The MPhil in Conservation Leadership, offered by Cambridge University, aims to train students to address the conservation issues we currently face in an integrative and interdisciplinary manner and develop the necessary skills that students need to lead and act effectively.

obs at Cambridge Conservation Initiative

Dr Chris Sandbrook, Lecturer in Conservation Leadership, chats to Conservation Careers Founder Dr Nick Askew about the nature of the course and benefits for graduates.

How would you describe the MPhil in Conservation Leadership?

The easiest way to describe the course is that it is a bit like an MBA in Conservation. What we are trying to do is to help establish conservation professionals who have been working in conservation for a number of years and have shown signs that they have potential to be quite significant leaders in conservation in the future.

We are trying to help them to get the practical skills needed to achieve that, so the course is a combination of understanding emerging themes and concepts in conservation alongside more practical training such as management, human resources, doing media interviews and that sort of thing.

Developing the soft skills that people need to succeed in organisations is important because we get a lot of people who are currently conservation leaders and admit that they have never had any specific training to do the jobs that they do. They have really just done biology, maybe a PhD, quite a lot of ecological fieldwork and then all of a sudden they find themselves with a team of fifty people and budgets to manage and they haven’t had any training to look after that side of things. That is the gap that we are trying to plug with this course.

The course runs for a year – can you describe what a year in the course looks like?

The first two terms are given over to teaching. There is a fast paced module in which all the classes are given by a different person. Most of the lecturers are from the NGO world and over half of them would be from the Cambridge Conservation Initiative community. The aim is to have someone teach what they do, so if we are having someone come and teach Human Resources then it’s a Human Resources Manager who gives the class.

So that’s the first two terms and the students do assignments alongside those classes. They also do a consultancy group project after Christmas with one of the affiliated conservation organisations working on a real topic.

In the summer, for four months, students do an individual leadership placement, which is a cross between an internship and a research project. They have to work on their own defined project, which has usually been put forward by a chosen conservation organization. It has to address a specific leadership challenge. So it’s not a research project in a traditional ‘answer a question’ sort of way but they do tend to involve a bit of research, for example, some sort of market research or background research.

The topics are much more applied than you would normally see in a conservation course so they are things like working on a strategic plan for the next five years for a program or assessing the risks and opportunities that some emerging new thing might pose for an organization. The affiliated organisations have been really good about giving the students real problems and real insights into what they are doing and they’ve found the work opportunities pretty useful.

What sort of benefits have graduates seen for their careers?

At the most basic level almost all of our alumni are in employment. I think they have done really well in that sense. Quite a few of them come to do the course on a career break and have a job to return to, but others have done really well in finding new jobs.

One graduate had previously worked for WWF Brazil and the Ministry for Environment in Brazil and, after graduating, he was employed as the Senior Policy Advisor in the Department of Environment for deforestation in the Amazon in Brazil. He was told by the people who recruited him that having this MPhil was quite significant.

We also had a student from Zimbabwe who returned to a much more senior role in the national park that he works after graduating from the MPhil course. We have had many other graduates who have become acting leaders of quite large organisations in a range of sectors from iNGOs, NGOs and government.

If you would like to find out more about this exciting degree, applications for October 2015 are now open (closes 2nd December 2014).

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