Keys to Success from a King of Conservation: Professor Brendan Godley

While he is probably best known for his research with marine turtles, Brendan Godley is also the Course Director for the Biodiversity and Conservation MSc at the University of Exeter Penryn campus.  Brendan co-coordinates two modules on that course (Africa field-course and marine biodiversity and conservation), as well as one module on the undergraduate level.  Conservation Careers Blogger Matt Nicholson gets the inside scoop on working in conservation with the marine turtle loving, student inspiring Professor.

Brendan with a group of MSc students on a game drive in Kenya.

Brendan with a group of MSc students on a game drive in Kenya.

What’s your job title?

Professor of Conservation Science

What are the main activities in your work?

I used to carry out many months of overseas fieldwork per year but now focus on Education (teaching BSc and MSc students) and Research (mainly through supervising PhD students and Postdocs). Both of these activities see me travel occasionally but much of my time is now spent in Cornwall. I still, therefore, consider myself lucky. 

Why do you work in conservation?

I love biodiversity and people and would like, in some small way, to try and make the world a better place. 

What’s the best part of the job?

Dealing with interested and committed people at home and abroad, whether they be students, fishermen, government officials or NGO workers.  Additionally, being able to work at a top University whilst living and bringing up my family in such a wonderful place, as Cornwall is pretty special. 

What’s the worst part of the job?

Handling the frustration that ensues as you realise that there is only a finite amount one can do. 

What are you most proud of achieving through your work?

I take great pleasure in seeing what our students go on to do and when work we have undertaken in partnership with colleagues overseas results in policy change whether it be to protected status of a marine turtle nesting site or a change to fishery regulations. 

If you could change one thing that you have done throughout your career what would it be?

I should have looked after my knees better to give me more miles in the future!

Seeing an elephant in the wild makes everyone, including Brendan, stop and marvel at their beauty.

Seeing an elephant in the wild makes everyone, including Brendan, stop and marvel at their beauty.

Are there any conservation issues that you think get too much attention from conservationists?

Climate change is important, and I work on it myself, but much of the biodiversity loss will happen through other drivers before the worst of the climate change kicks in. Indeed, better functioning ecosystems have the potential to offer us all with greater resilience to change. 

What issues do you think need more attention from conservationists?

Finding pathways for biodiversity to deliver benefits to poor people who live in and around protected areas and other biodiversity rich places. This clearly means that biologists need to work closer with social science, policy and business professionals; building on the evidence of conservation science. 

What are your feelings on the impact of the ‘social media revolution’ on disseminating scientific information?

I think it has been positive. Good news, information stories and opportunities can be shared effectively. We must remember, however, that many of the most important opinions and perceptions are not likely to be influenced by twitter but by stakeholder engagement at the grassroots level that results in bottom-up solutions of real benefit to people and the biodiversity they live with.

Brendan and part of the Kenya fieldcourse after a long trek up Mt. Kenya.

Brendan and part of the Kenya fieldcourse after a long trek up Mt. Kenya.

What advice would you give someone wishing to follow in your footsteps?

Do what you love, work hard, be kind, learn to write, network, fundraise and acquire other skills which are in demand. In particular, I would encourage biologists to look to the inter-disciplinary fringes. Biology can’t save biodiversity but policy and economic processes may.


About the author

MattMatt Nicholson is a marine biologist currently completing an MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity at the University of Exeter.  Born and raised in Miami, FL, he loves anything and everything to do with the ocean and hopes to make a career out of preserving it.  Follow him on Twitter: @Sharkynichol and check out his website for news, photos, and videos as well as links to his personal blog.

Brendan is very active with social media, I recommend following him on Twitter: Prof Brendan Godley.  It has been a great honor to be a student of his, and given his extremely busy schedule I really appreciate him taking the time for this interview.

The following video shows my video compilation of the 2014 Conservation and Biodiversity Kenya field Course.

Careers Advice, Interviews, Senior Level, Celebrating Diversity in Conservation, Marine Conservation Jobs