National Geographic Project Manager – Julie Brown
Conservation is a broad field with many career opportunities that fall under the conservation umbrella. One of the biggest challenges is following your path to discover your niche. Julie Brown spoke candidly with me about her non-linear path to her current role in conservation education. I, as a Conservation Career blogger, was extremely inspired by her words and enthusiasm for growth.
Julie Brown is currently a Project Manager for the Education Department at National Geographic. Brown was hired first as an Ocean Education Specialist for National Geographic, tasked to create online ocean education materials for teachers, informal educators and kids. As a Project Manager, Brown now oversees education projects from inception to completion ranging in subjects from environmental science, social studies, engineering and more. On her desk she manages anywhere from four to ten projects at a time, working with partners such as the Jane Goodall Institute, instructional designers, writers, and scientists to see the project to successful completion.
Brown’s words re-ignited my passion for conservation education and I hope they do the same for you. In contrast to our formal format of interview question and answer, I think this article will be best served by allowing Brown’s words to lead.
Whether you are interested in conservation or not, Brown’s quotes will encourage you to explore and value your own career path.
“I grew up kind of as a little bit of a tomboy and loved being outdoors.”
Brown’s parents instilled a love of nature in her at a young age enrolling her in summer camp and taking trips to her grandparent’s lake house. It’s apparent Brown’s parents also valued nature as her mother volunteered at a local nature preserve, a place where Brown herself discovered a bird-watching passion.
“I was motivated by what worked for me and how I could make a difference”
Brown has a mild form of dyslexia, and discovered she was good at hands on tactile tasks. Something that could have been a deterrent became something that guided her journey into the hands on world of nature.
“When I started getting my hands dirty and getting into the work I really was inspired to do more.”
As a student at a University that was not allowing Brown to take the classes she was interested in, she decided to take her education into her own hands. She left her University to take an internship at a Regional Planning Agency in Nevada and get involved in community and development activities to monitor what was occurring in the watershed and maintain clean water with ecologically minded construction. Seeking out alternate routes for her education allowed her to develop a personal education and career path.
“I was interested in teaching others about my passion and the environment.”
Her interest in teaching led her to a community college course called “Winter wilderness in nature.” Although she wasn’t exactly interested in winter wilderness adventure, she was interested to discover the career path of her professors. The Alma mater of her professor was soon to be Brown’s as well.
“The motto of Prescott College, ‘Education is a journey not a destination’ really resonated with me.”
During her hands on education at Prescott College, Brown spent time in Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and Alaska (completing a National Outdoor Leadership School course) to explore her interests and discover her passions. What she found was the value of how outdoor learning can be applied to a formal education.
“There is nothing linear about my path.”
While pursuing her degree in Conservation Biology with an emphasis on Marine Science, Brown discovered her talents and matched them to a need in conservation. She began to realize one of the biggest parts in conservation biology was education and outreach. Her work in developing countries discerned her talents for educating communities and coming up with solutions to meet their financial needs yet conserve resources. Her science background provided her the knowledge to work on accurate messaging and educational initiatives to change people’s behavior.
“Like I’m a bird nerd, I’m also a fish nerd. I like the identification but I really like doing something more with it.”
Brown explored different roles in the conservation community. Conducting citizen science on coral reefs, teaching marine science on a boat, formal classroom marine science teaching at a private school and online teaching. All of these positions allowed her to follow her passion of science but pass her knowledge and enthusiasm on to others.
“You jump at the opportunities that make sense for you.”
A listserv email came across Brown’s desk announcing “a whale of a job” and as Brown read the email, she knew it described her. Her experience and passions aligned with what the job description and organization was looking for, so she took a shot and applied. Brown said, “I could not, not apply for this.” A few months later, she was working for National Geographic.
“You can not stop your learning and growing. This is not an end point, this is a point in my career.”
Brown emphasized the importance of always job seeking. Every professional should be looking for the next best opportunity for himself or herself. When we’re young we think about a dream job, but the truth is, it’s a dream path. Our path is changing and following your own path is a success in itself. Brown is herself exploring her future, following listservs, finding out what’s out there, what sparks her interest and what is in the best interest of her family.
“Shout out to young people – get as much field and travel experience as you can get when you are younger, because it’s harder to balance as you get older.”
It’s important to get field and travel experience early in life. As a young adult, Brown made use of opportunities to travel and work in the field, which became incredible experiences that were important for her career. Life continues on and your work life balance changes. What worked foryou without kids, a house or car payments, may not work for you with a family and other responsibilities. Brown radiated her best work as her two kids, and realizes her job satisfaction qualities and life balance is different now then when she first started.
“There is a reality to field science, it shouldn’t be glamorized, it shouldn’t be glorified. Day to day work is often nasty and uncomfortable and it’s worth doing.”
Brown described her work with sea turtle conservation in the trenches: being covered in bugs, sand, and rain yet still coming out with a passion for conservation biology and field research. She may not have the same glamorous view of sea turtles as many of us do, but her passion is unwavering.
“Find mentors: Find someone at the same career point as you. Find somebody that’s where you want to be in 2-3 years. Find somebody that’s where you want to be in 5 years.”
Find people to network with, share paths, ideas and encouragement. They will push you to discover how you can better yourself and grow both professionally and personally. Evaluating professionals and discovering their paths opens up opportunities you may not have known even existed.
“Conservation education is extremely impactful and satisfying and so needed. People who teach are people who want to make a bigger impact and awaken others to possibilities and ways they can change.”
One of the reasons Brown moved from straight science into the education realm was her passion to educate the future generations and invoke change. As a classroom teacher she saw the one on one impact of her work, and now as a teacher of teachers the scope of her reach is much bigger, empowering teachers to influence their own students.
If there were just one thing to take away from Julie Brown’s conservation path, it would be to carve your own. If you are not getting the education you want, or are not on a path for growth, you can impact your path. Find some mentors, get out in the field or browse the listservs to discover your next best fit. I’m ready to hit the ground running and I hope you are too.
About the author
Naima Montacer is an outdoor enthusiast and conservationist with a Masters of Science in Biology. Naima has extensive environmental education program and curriculum development experience from several zoos and science centers. She now works as a freelance writer and is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists. Learn more on her website EnviroAdventures.com.