Webinar | Postgraduate Training for Conservation Careers

Are you looking for the best postgraduate training to further your conservation career? Do you think you might need to do a Masters, Postgraduate Certificate or similar? During this live event, we spoke to leading Course Directors from Cambridge and Oxford Universities to answer your questions.

Panel | Postgraduate Training for Conservation Careers

Topics Covered

  • What are the different postgraduate training for conservation careers?
  • What are the benefits of doing postgraduate training in conservation?
  • What types of people should consider doing a Masters/PGCert?
  • What are the typical career paths/prospects following such a course?

Video Replay | Postgraduate Training for Conservation Careers


Transcript | Postgraduate Training for Conservation Careers

NICK: Ok well good evening everybody, welcome to this live training event from Conservation Careers. My name is Nick Askew from Conservation Careers. Thank you for joining this webinar where tonight we’ll be exploring Postgraduate training for conservation careers in wildlife conservation. Now you’re all here because you want to spend your careers conserving wildlife, and I salute you for that.

As a result I believe you deserve the best careers support and training that we can offer you.

Now you might be here because you’re one of two or three different types of people I guess, so firstly you might be an undergraduate, perhaps you’re studying currently something related to wildlife conservation and you’re planning your next career steps; welcome.

You might be also job hunting, ok so you might be trying to understand what you need in order to speed up the job hunt to get hired quicker and you want to understand whether postgraduate training for conservation, whether it’s a Masters, a Postgraduate certificate or a diploma, is right for you; welcome also.

Or you might be a career switcher, you might be doing something, working in a totally unrelated sector right now and you want to get more kind of career insights into what does the sector look like, what is the different pathways into the industry and whether Postgraduate training for conservation is right for you and whether it’s needed; welcome also.

Now we get asked all the time at Conservation Careers, do I need a Masters degree or similar postgraduate training for conservation? And it’s a really simple question I guess to ask, but it’s quite a hard one to answer. And tonight we’re going to start trying to unpick that for you.

It largely depends upon whether your target role, your chosen niche, if you like, requires a Masters degree, what are the entry-level requirements for that role or maybe the mid-level requirements if you’re looking to switch across from mid-career into a mid-career, and also your experiences to date.

So there’s no one size fits all, it’s very dependent upon your particular context and the role you’re looking to secure. But it’s worth bearing in mind also that conservationists are, they’re an educated bunch, ok.

So we did a survey five or six years ago at Conservation Careers when we asked around 150 professional conservationists working in conservation across the globe, not just here in the UK but globally, we asked them… one of the questions we asked was what was the highest-ranking qualification that you have?

Ok, and the survey respondents stated, 19% had PhDs so doctorates, ok; 42% had Postgraduates their highest training, so a Masters, diploma, certificate; and 34% were graduates as their highest level achievement and 6% were school level. So looking that in the round, 61% of professional conservationists have a Postgraduate training or higher, ok. So they’re a clever bunch.

So certainly it’s an important aspect of working in a really competitive sector, which is why it’s important and why we’re looking at this evening.

Now we just launched a new area of our website where we’ve listed about 1,500 training courses, a lot of Masters and Postgraduate courses but degrees and online and short courses and other things also. And in today’s webinar what we’re going to do is explore the pros and cons of Postgraduate training for careers in wildlife conservation.

We’ll be exploring questions such as, what are the different types of Postgraduate training opportunities in conservation? What are the benefits of doing Postgraduate training? How can you choose the right course for you, ok? And what are the typical career paths or prospects following such a course, along with other things? And it’s really exciting because it’s the first time we’ve had a panel on a Conservation Careers webinar.

So joining me we have three course leaders from two of the top universities in the world who are going to share their insights and their views on Postgraduate training for conservation.

Now I’ll introduce them in a minute and they’ll introduce themselves also, but before we do that I’d really like to hear from you guys online, I can see we’ve got nearly 50 people online which is wonderful. So if you’d just like to kind of use the comment, you should be able to see a chat wall in there, if you could just say hello, you know, where you are, that would be wonderful.

So I’m Nick, I’m in the UK, feel free just to kind of let us know where you are.

And while you’re doing that I’ll just give you a little bit of an overview of how the webinar’s going to run, ok. And then we’ll get into the meat of it. So in a minute, our panellists are going to introduce themselves, ok, tell us a little bit about themselves and the courses that they lead. I’ll then open with some questions to the panellists where we’ll be exploring the different Postgraduate training for conservation options and how it can help your careers, and then I’ll be handing over to you, ok, so will be providing lots of opportunity for you to ask your questions to the panellists and to get your answers from them.

So feel free to start thinking and formulating your questions, use the comment wall for the questions, ok, and then when the time comes we can dip in and start answering those questions for you. It’s really nice to see a few people online, let me just say some hellos.

Who have we got online here? We’ve got Katie from the UK, hi; and Hakim also in the United Kingdom; we’ve got Marion in France, welcome; Christina in Germany, hi Kristina, I think I know you, welcome. Amy in San Diego, you’re winning the distance competition so far as far as I can see; Alice in Bristol; Lucy from France; Cape Verne as well, wow. Welcome, welcome Uthman in Nigeria, if I know you then it’s really nice to see you online, if you won the blogger competition last year. Welcome. Ok, well it’s really nice to have so many people online.

So what we’ll do then is I’ll pass over and introduce our three panellists, and they’ll us a little bit about their courses and then we’ll go into the kind of the meat of the webinar, which is all about questions and answers and exploring Postgraduate training for conservation. So on the webinar this evening, we have three course leaders.

We have Dr Chris Sandbrook, who is the Course Director of the Masters in Conservation Leadership at the University of Cambridge. We also have Dr Chloë Montes Strevens, who is the Course Director for the Masters in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management at the University of Oxford. And last but by no means least we have Ada Grabowska-Zhang, Course Director for the Postgraduate Certificate in Ecological Survey Techniques, also at the University of Oxford.

So maybe if I can pass over to you guys one by one, if you just give us a little bit of an introduction to yourself and your courses, that would be wonderful. And maybe I’ll start with Chris, if that’s ok, if I pass over to you.

CHRIS: Yeah sure, thanks Nick. So as you’ve said my name’s Chris Sandbrook and I’m the Course Director for the Masters in Conservation Leadership, which is hosted in the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge but is actually a very interdisciplinary programme. I myself have an interdisciplinary background, I trained in zoology initially but have my PhD in anthropology and I’ve been working in geography for over ten years now kind of on the relationship between conservation and society particularly, and those issues in the global south.

The Masters programme itself is a one-year full-time course which is targeted at mid-career conservation professionals so we’re looking for people who’ve already got, you know, three to five years of experience in conservation and they’re looking to kind of step up to that next level of leadership in their careers. And it’s designed to give them the kind of applied leadership and management skills that they need to be really effective agents of change in conservation, as well as having the kind of cutting edge interdisciplinary academic training that they need.

And the way we deliver the course is through what’s called the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, so we have… we’re very lucky to have in Cambridge this initiative that brings together ten institutions at the University of Cambridge plus nine internationally-focused conservation organisation network, which have been working together for over ten years and are now kind of co-located in one large building called the David Attenborough Building.

And our students are able to benefit from all these different practitioners of academics who come and teach them on the work that they’re doing, and then also host some of their projects so they can put some of what they’ve been learning into practice.

NICK: Fabulous, thank you Chris. Yeah, and I can vouch it’s a wonderful course, we do a bit of career coaching as part of the course each year and it’s great to kind of see the international element of the students that you have actually, the sort of twenty or so students from across the globe, aren’t they, real mid-career kind of conservation changers.

CHRIS: Yeah, I should have probably said that. I mean, we’ve had… we have about 20 students a year as you said, and in the ten years the course has been running we’re now up to 80 different nationalities from around the world. You know, 17 or 18 different nationalities in a cohort, and only one or even no British students so it’s a really kind of global programme.

NICK: Fabulous, thank you. Thank you for your time and for joining this webinar. Chloë, if I can hand over to you please, if you could introduce yourself and your postgraduate training for conservation also.

CHLOË: Sure, thanks Nick. Yeah, I’m Chloë Montes Strevens and I am the Course Director for the Biodiversity, Conservation and Management Masters here in the School of Geography in Oxford University. I have had various jumps and leaps in my career having started I suppose the usual academic track as an undergraduate in zoology from Trinity College in Dublin, and then pursuing my graduate degree, post… doctoral degree here in University of Oxford, actually in mathematical ecology, which was highly theoretical and for a taste of something more applied I jumped ship to the policy world working with the United Nations environment programme, World Conservation Monitoring Centre based in Cambridge.

And then following a period of missing the world of research and teaching, I returned to Oxford and took up a post-doc in the Zoology Department looking at agri environment policy and from there in… about nine or ten months ago I joined the Biodiversity, Conservation and Management Masters as a Course Director. And so we have also got a very interdisciplinary course, we are based in the School of Geography within the social sciences division but benefit greatly from very strong links with the wider conservation science research groups across the University, in the Zoology Department, in the Martins School, Oxford Martins School, as well as the interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science.

The objectives of our course are really to provide an understanding of biodiversity science and the socioeconomic political cultural and institutional environments with which, within which management and policy decisions are made. We have a one-year course for our Masters of Science as well as a two-year course for an MPhil which… the difference being that for the Masters of Science you have a year composed of two terms of taught courses followed by a one-term research component, for the longer MPhil programme you extend that research project to the following year and then are required to submit larger pieces of research.

Some of the things that we do over the course of the year, we encourage students… class sizes is normally around 26 so all of our classes are very interactive, students are encouraged to engage in teaching with the lecturers directly, and so we encourage people to critically engage with the concepts and theory in biodiversity science across various different disciplines, just describe how and by whom space is prioritised and governed for conservation over time, critically assess the ways in which conservation builds and extends its power and explain the emergence and performance of different modes of governance.

We work on the role of ethics and values in producing culturally attuned conservation interventions, and we explore the world of technology and how it is evolving within conservation science and pushing the barriers of what we know and what we can do to implement change. Fundamentally we have a strong theoretical component to the course, but this is then linked through to hypothesis and methods and data through your dissertation project to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how biodiversity science can be advanced in the future.

NICK: Fab, fab. Thank you. Sounds like an exciting course. Thank you for that introduction. And then over to Ada, if you could also… if you just keep it fairly brief if we can so we can get through as many questions as we can, give us a brief overview of your course as well too please, Ada.

ADA: Of course. So my name is Ada Grabowska-Zhang, and I’m the Course Director for Postgraduate Certificate in Ecological Survey Techniques. Now both of those things are a bit of a mouthful, so I’m going to briefly go through this. So our course is a Postgraduate level course which is run typically over a year, and it’s part-time, and it’s a course in which people can get really nice exposure to first of all Postgraduate level study, but also practical applications of the sort of methodologies that are used on the ground in ecology and conservation.

So for example it’s a, what we call a blended learning approach where you’ve got a mixture of learning in the field, where you come to beautiful Oxford and we take you out into the field and teach you introduction to some of those surveying techniques and we go through a wide range of taxa to introduce people to. People who come to us sometimes have experience in one or two groups, but rarely all of them. And we also have an intense geographical information systems course during that week. After which we’ve got a series of online modules, so people can go back home and do these, these are tutored courses, they require sort of Postgraduate levels of reading and assessment, so these are assessed courses.

And they’re centred around different taxonomic groups, so surveying different taxonomic groups. We also have a module on data analysis and biology, so this is again an assessed course which introduces the concept of data and data storage, data analysis and statistics.

And we’ve got different taxonomic groups that then you can learn about, we’ve got vegetation, then we’ve got field techniques for surveying mammals and reptiles, then birds, then together we’ve got fish and amphibians and invertebrates. So for people who want to specialise, and you need to take two of those are compulsory, and so that’s vegetation and data, and then you can choose out of the remaining modules to suit sort of your career goals.

NICK: Great. That’s wonderful. Actually maybe the first question, maybe I can kind of stay with you Ada in that case then, because you’re doing a Postgraduate Certificate, the other guys are leading in Masters programme. Can you just like paint a picture of like the different types of postgraduate training for conservation opportunities out there, so people are clear of the different options?

ADA: So Postgraduate Certificate I would say is probably the lightest version of your postgraduate training for conservation. I tend to call it sort of half a Masters, but it’s a tiny bit shorter than that. So think about it as the same level but less… it’s the same level but less duration. Like you would have a training full-time for a year for a Masters, you have that exposure for a year but part-time.

So students are expected to do about 20 hours of study a week. You can also have a Postgraduate Diploma, which is a little bit, again, ramping up a little bit of the time spent on it. So sort of maybe two thirds of a Masters, that’s what it’s sometimes quoted as, and then you’ve got the Masters which, you know, kind of the equivalent of a year full-time study.

NICK: Fabulous, that’s really clear, thank you Ada. Opening to all three of you, whoever wishes to pick it up, you know, why do people choose to take your courses? What are the benefits of doing Postgraduate training for conservation, you know? Would one of you like to kind of talk around that subject, please?

CHLOË: Well I can say that from our part, a lot of it is because they’re looking to specialise in conservation science, so… and they’re seeking that sort of more focused view of that… of this field. A lot of their undergrads will have been much more broad and will maybe have contained one or so set series, lecture series or modules whereas this is focused for one or two years.

And the other thing that we find, particularly with undergraduates coming from British universities is that until they reach this level, they will often have been siloed into social sciences or into natural sciences and these Masters offer an opportunity to do… really work in this interdisciplinary world pulling theory expertise from across the different disciplines and apply it to their chosen field of study.

NICK: Right ok, great. Do you have anything to add to that Chris as well, or you feel that’s…?

CHRIS: Well I completely agree with what Chloë said about that kind of interdisciplinarity, which often is lacking in the Undergraduate programmes, certainly in the UK. Just one point just to add to the previous question about kinds of study,

I think it’s perhaps worth highlighting that there are, in the UK system, that Masters degrees themselves can kind of broadly be described in two different categories, there are kind of taught Masters programmes, which will have a heavily taught element with perhaps a shorter research dissertation or project at the end, and then there are kind of research-focused Masters programmes, which often have less structured teaching, a longer dissertation element and are perhaps more seen as a kind of preparatory step to go onto a PhD.

And then also in other countries of course, they have different systems, so for example in the US a Masters can typically be two years rather than one, and it’s different in every different country around the world, but that’s our kind of British system that we’re all working in.

NICK: Yeah, thanks for covering that. And is that the difference between and MPhil and MRes, is that what you just described here in the UK?

CHRIS: Er, it’s not quite as clean as that.

NICK: (laughter) That’s a can of worms.

CHRIS: An MRes definitely has that research focus and then other universities just have their own kind of weird and wonderful terminology for different things.

NICK: Ok, fabulous. Thank you.

CHRIS: Our MPhil is a taught programme but we tend to call it the Masters in Conservation Leadership rather than the MPhil because no one knows what an MPhil is, including me.

NICK: (laughter) Me neither.

ADA: If I can add something, I think for our course, people who apply, they’re really looking for… to excel in the practical aspect of ecology and the conservation world. Because even people with a recent degree in biology, we kind of find that… we get people applying for our course who have got a Masters, on the course at the moment we’ve got two people with PhDs. And they… and you know, they’ve got a high level of training, what they want is actually that practical methodological rigour, maybe they would have specialised in a very, very small, narrow area on how to survey rivers but if they want to go onto the wider sector, they need a little bit more in their toolkit. And this what we provide.

CHRIS: And can I just quickly jump in there, that very similar with our Masters, we’ve had quite a few students who have PhDs and already have Masters, and I think that’s partly because it’s not really on this kind of track, the kind of hierarchy from Undergraduate study to Masters and onto a PhD on a research track, it’s for people who are really looking for that applied management and leadership training, because they’re perhaps finding themselves in a role in their career for which they don’t so you know, they’ve got that really excellent technical skill from their previous study and their research training, and then all of a sudden they find themselves leading a team of people and managing large budgets, having to do fundraising, and they just don’t have the skills that they need and then they find themselves then looking for further training.

NICK: Do any of you get people who are these kind of, you know, career-switchers I described at the beginning? People working outside of conservation maybe mid-career doing something unrelated but they’re looking to kind of, you know, to flip into wildlife conservation ecology or related through going through a kind of postgraduate training for conservation like you guys offer? Is it something that you kind of support, the career-switcher?

ADA: Yes, absolutely. We actually get quite a few career-switchers, so these will be people who for example work in a consultancy sector but perhaps not in ecology or not in conservation. And their passion is to work, so at the moment on the course we’ve got a person who worked in city planning for example, and we’ve got people with business degrees, and they are really looking for this kind of bridge between what they maybe thought they wanted to do, aeronautic engineering, we’ve got one, a person with a degree in aeronautic engineering. And they just want to bridge their skills so that they can find a career in something that they feel passionate about.

NICK: Right. So there’s someone here, Katie’s asked, what happens if I have no experience, I’m a drama teacher, what can I do? Would you take people with literally no experience, Ada or there needs to be some background or related experience to go through a course like yours?

ADA: So d’you know, during admissions process, we are looking for evidence for real… for a passion for the subject. So even if you don’t have paid experience, you know, or kind of professional experience, we would be looking for evidence that for example you are passionate about conservation. And that you maybe have volunteered with a conservation organisation and did some work not necessarily, you know, because you were paid to do or not necessarily in surveying, but something that would have given you the experience of what it’s going to be like to study for our course, and what it’s going to be like working in the sector. Because we don’t want to really give people false impressions.

And we don’t… we can’t show them what it’s going to be like after they finish our course, so it’s… so we’re looking for people who are very convinced and very certain of what they’re looking for. And I think the evidence of having done something, if it’s volunteering, if it’s, you know, a lot of our students for example have volunteered with their local Wildlife Trust. And that is very good evidence that they’re passionate about conservation.

NICK: Fabulous, thank you. Chloë, Chris, do you have switchers also and what do you look for for people coming through your courses that have been doing something unrelated?

CHLOË: So I think we’re a little different from both Ada and Chris’s courses in that we have most years got quite a large number of very early career conservation scientists and practitioners. We frequently get people straight from Undergrads, and although in our admission process we neither… we don’t have any emphasis on one particular criterion, we look at a fairly wholistic view, take a very wholistic view of a person’s profile and it includes academic criteria and professional experience, and vocation.

That said, because we have some early career applicants, we look across all different degrees, we have on our course at the moment 75% or so of people with natural sciences degrees, and the others come from all different disciplines. We have art students, we have economists, we have business graduates and everything in between. And I think for us, along with the cultural geographic diversity of our cohort, that really enriches the experience and although it is, at least the first two terms are intensive taught elements of the course, it’s actually some of the experiences that people will have with their peers, the discussion that they’ll have, the networks that they’ll build, that really kind of creates a fantastic learning environment here in the course.

In terms of career switchers, maybe fewer perhaps Ada and Chris, because we don’t have sort of fewer mid-career, and those that come mid-career are typically those who have had a lot of field experience are then looking to move more into the world of policy and decision-making and so on. Or back into the research environment. That said, we do get people who are working often in related fields, maybe in sustainability and supply chain management for corporations, maybe working in engineering and starting to look at how new technologies might be applied to conservation science, this year we have a geneticist who worked extensively on red kite introductions, and has come to us to learn a little bit more about the sort of application through policy and decision-making of some of the evidence and scientific methods.

NICK: Right, and as someone who sees red kites fly past them all day every day, it’s nice to hear that the work these people are doing is having a great impact, you know, on the world around us. Fabulous. So I’ve seen a few questions dropping in, that’s great, please do add your questions in and we’ll start touching on them now as I kind of see them coming through. And I see also Chris, thank you for answering a question in the comment stream, that’s wonderful. There’s a question there for you Chris directly actually, so Chris… I’ve been out of the academic world for eight years now, almost exclusively conservation-related professional positions. Would you accept solely professional – ooh I just lost the question there, there it goes –

CHRIS: Actually I think I’ve already answered it, Nick so…

NICK: You have, ok well that’s fine.

CHRIS: …to get too specific. Can I just say very quickly about the career-switchers, we do get some, the key for us is that they have to have several years of professional experience that can be described as relevant to conservation but for some that’s in the corporate world or, you know, something not in a kind of classically a conservation job.

But like they have to demonstrate a real passion for the field, and convince us that they’re going to take this as their career from here on, and they have something that’s relevant to leadership, so whether that’s existing leadership skills and experience, or a kind of trajectory that suggests they’ll be in leadership positions in the future.

NICK: Right, ok. And a question to the three of you then, related to that, and you may have already covered it Chris, I don’t know but what do you look for, you know, when you’re shortlisting applications? What should people do to stand out from the crowd, you know? What are some of the things… are there any tips you can give people that would help them to have a greater chance of being accepted onto your course?

CHRIS: Yeah so, I think a really important thing is to look very, very closely at the kind of… what it says on the course websites and information about what we’re looking for, and if you can demonstrate that you’ve really closely looked at and understood our programme and can give a good answer to what you want to come onto this particular programme and not other ones, it’s something we often ask about at interviews, you know, why this course, and some people, it’s pretty clear that they haven’t really even looked at the kind of titles of your modules and that kind of thing, and I’d say that that’s a bit of a mistake if you’re looking at these programmes.

Yeah, as I said, we look for people who have plenty of experience professionally and can really convince us that they’ve reached some kind of a, maybe a blockage or a need to kind of shift up a gear in their career and they’re going to have a big impact. We’re perhaps a little different I think possibly also from Chloë’s programme in that our academic requirements are not as high as you might think. So you know, they’re kind of equivalent of a 2:1 from a UK university but in some cases with people who’ve got a really outstanding track record and potential we can go lower than that, so you know, if someone have particularly, you know, perhaps been to a university in a country in a part of the world which doesn’t quite have a strong educational system, we can often make a case that, you know, their qualities are significant that they should be given a chance despite not having, you know, a top class degree from a world-class university because I think it’s important to say with all of us on the panel, you know, conservation Postgraduate training for conservation is not exclusively the preserve of Oxford and Cambridge. You know, there are lots of other really, really good institutions in the UK and elsewhere doing similar work.

NICK: Yeah, absolutely, yeah. And maybe Ada, if I can go over to you, like what do you look for when you’re looking at applications? Are there any things that, you know, you’re specifically looking for?

ADA: So we’re really looking for you know, our entry requirements, we have to have a certain kind of threshold but we take this wholistic approach, kind of like what Chloë said before, in that we have taken people without a first degree before. But they’ve got such a mass of professional and field experience and they’re… and they just need extra skills, their skill is maybe lacking in the academic rigour of what they have been doing, and they just need to skill up in that. And this is what we can offer to them. On the flipside there might be people who have got, you know, recent Undergraduate… recent graduates who are… actually have got much less experience in the field or in applying the methodology, but they’ve got good track record of academic study.

We really take a mix and I think what we’re really looking for is sort of evidence that someone is passionate about ecology and… because our course is very much focused on real-life applications of these methods, that this is something that would be beneficial for someone in so it’s sort of, you know, I don’t… I sort of tend to think about it as a matchmaking process. Because you know, we want to give people the skills that they actually need. So they need to tell us what skills they have, and what skills they need to achieve what they want to achieve, and then we sort of make that decision.

I mean sometimes for example, if we really can’t make a good case that a person can be accepted on the Certificate, all of our individual modules are available as stand-alone short courses. Actually we don’t have evidence from your application that this is a good match but you are welcome to take a short course with us and see if that suits and then… and the good thing about our course is that then that module, so long as you take it for credit and you complete the assessment, that can then be incorporated when you later decide that the Postgraduate Certificate is for you and we’ve got more evidence of your ability from your assessment. Then you can incorporate that.

NICK: So it’s like a stepping stone at that point, sort of try before you buy almost (laughter).

ADA: Almost like that, yeah. Because we really want to sort of allow people to do what they want to do. So long as there’s that match, yeah, we’re…

NICK: Right, great, thank you. The three of you have quite different courses, and I think we can sort of hear that, you know, you’re serving different types of people at different stages in their career also. And Chris you mentioned also, you know, one of the things you ask people when they come through interview is, you know, do they understand the course, how did they select it, you know, did they even look at the modules or not? What sort of questions – this is an open question to all three of you – what sort of questions should people ask themselves when they’re trying to find the right course for them? You know, are there things that they should be bearing in mind when they’re kind of filtering through what is quite a big list actually of potential training opportunities out there, to try and find the right one, the right match that you just described Ada, as well.

CHLOË: For me I think, thinking about what it is that you don’t have that you want in order to have the career that you’re aiming for. So if it is a case that you’re looking for practical skills, field skills then maybe Ada’s would be a better course to take. If you are sort of developing your career, you’ve got a lot of experience, then Chris will speak more but I suspect that sort of that training in leadership and so on is going to be right.

And in our case, if you are looking for a better understanding of the theory, if you’re looking to explore concepts and engage with them a little bit more deeply, come to get to grips with the complexity, the cross-disciplinarily of the topic, and think about how these theories can be applied in practice, either through policy making, through the advance of conservation research, development of evidence basis, or yeah, working within the corporate world, the development of new markets and engagement with decision-making for various different stakeholders, then sort of that would be our course. So thinking about, as I say, what it is that you don’t have that you want to get, is probably your first step.

NICK: Yeah, that’s great advice. It’s advice we often give people too, which is understand what it is you’re trying to secure, see what they’re looking for that you already have but then it gives you the gap so it tells you whether you need training or not and it might tell you specifically, you know, where it is you’d like to go for that training. Yeah.

CHRIS: Maybe one thing, you’ve got, I think, almost the reverse of that which is just to think about where you want to be, like what’s your sort of five-year, ten-year career goal, and then what programme that’s going to help you get there. And you asked in your kind of introductory, or you said in your introductory comments Nick, that you know, whether you need a Masters to get going in conservation.

And I’m not really often asked whether you need a PhD perhaps, to get to a slightly more senior level, and you know, the thing that is really difficult is often, people feel that they need, you know, those two letters before their name to be Dr Somebody, to be kind of taken seriously and given a really senior job, and actually the skills that you get from doing a PhD may not be the ones that you need to do that well, and doing a PhD is a long-haul, it’s hard work, you know, you’ve got to really be passionate about the thing that you’re studying.

It’s always, really, you know, advising people to be cautious about embarking on a PhD just because they think it might kind of get them through a hoop to get a different kind of job. You know, doing a PhD is something, it’s absolutely necessary if you want a career where those research skills will be required but, you know, if it isn’t, maybe there’s a way around that that you could do a Masters like ours or there are other courses now emerging which have that kind of applied leadership and management focus and then you can convince employers that, look, I’ve got those skills that you think I might have got from a PhD but I’ve done it much more efficiently, you know, one year programme and I’m ready to be employed at that level. Because, you know, we’ve all seen people who get into the late stage of a PhD and it’s not really for them and it’s quite a painful experience for, you know, those concerned.

NICK: Yeah, thank you, yeah. It’s interesting to think actually so coming out of your courses, what are the kind of career paths or the prospects that you typically see people go, you know, once they leave your course and go back into the real world, if I can put it that way? You know, what are the typical jobs, roles, yeah career prospects, that you see in coming out of your courses?

CHLOË: So I’m quite lucky, our alumnus office actually have been busy at work pulling out various stats and numbers on where our alumni go to. And something like, and there’s going to be some margin for error in here because of job turnover and so on and so forth, but somewhere around two thirds, just over two thirds, go into public sector roles, NGOs or business, and the remainder tend to then go into research for us.

NICK: Interesting.

CHLOË: Within government and NGOs we have a really, very wide-reaching sort of scope or range of things across the world, to Conservation International, WWF, UNEF, IUCN and many, many others.

NICK: Anything goes.

CHLOË: And within the public sector, again people go into decision-making bodies, policy advice and so on in a wide range of countries across the world. Many, many, many of those that go into government roles are actually non-UK students returning to their home, native countries and entering the public service.

NICK: Great, thank you. Good, nice to hear, thanks for the stats as well, we appreciate that (laughter). Of all three of you I’d expect it from you probably so (laughter). Chris and Ada, could you add anything more to that? Where do our alumni tend to go to?

CHRIS: Yeah so most of our alumni, being international students, they mostly return home to their country of origin, although a fair few have stuck around in Cambridge for a few years. A few have gone on to do PhDs, but that’s definitely not the big majority of the graduates. And they’ve gone to, you know, really impressive senior leadership positions in NGOs in particular but also in governmental and intergovernmental organisations.

A very small number, more of a kind of entrepreneurial or private sector role but I think partly because so much of our teaching is kind of oriented around an NGO environment that we have in Cambridge, a lot of people who come to us are from that world and kind of remaining in that world. Although we’re increasingly seeing students coming in from governmental backgrounds, so people who work for the, you know, their Ministry of the Environment or they’ve been involved in a management role in a national park or something like that.

And so some of them are now in really, you know, impressive senior roles like we’ve got the Deputy Commissioner of Protected Area in Guyana for example, is one of our alumni, several people running NGOs but also some working at very, you know, what might be thought of as less glamorous careers but where they can really put their leadership skills into practice, you know, successfully leading a local project somewhere where it’s really needed so, you know, I think it’s important that, just to say that, you know, we don’t think of leadership as being something that’s associated only with the position of authority. It’s about somebody who can really influence and bring about change and that operates at a lot of different levels.

NICK: Fab, thank you, yeah. So interesting to hear and see where your guys are and where they’re going to be as well, sort of five or ten years down the road.

ADA: It’s really fantastic because we’ve had a similar story where people are just get… they sort of get a leg up from our course and one of our students go… so this is an African student who got promoted even before he finished his course, because our course can be done alongside full-time work. We were told that he’s been promoted to the Head of his government department while on course. And then people go back and do a lot so a lot of people who come from a management, so for example, national park managers, reserve managers, who come to us, they come back with more science-based management approach so they go on to either further their career in the sort of reserve management sector, or they sort of employ it so they work differently or they take on a more senior role.

Likewise we do get about 20% of our students who go on to do a Masters, and these are usually people who kind of missed their vocation originally and they’ve got an Undergraduate degree in something completely different, and they want to go on and do a Masters or a PhD but they need that methodological background. So that is about 20% go on to do further study and go into research. And the majority will be recruited in the environment sector, so they will be going to consultancy, they’ll be going to work to NGOs, and that depends whether they’re from the UK or not.

In the UK we find that exposing people to the network of practitioners, of ecology practitioners, gives them a real advantage because they get themselves known as someone who is on that course and because they do practical applications they need to do a field project, and if they collaborate with for example their, either their local government or an NGO during their research, then they make themselves known as a professional in the field already even when they’re on course.

NICK: Fabulous, thank you. I’ve just been reading some of the comments too as well while we’ve been giving an outline of careers prospects, and there’s a bunch of really nice questions in here, and Chris and others have been answering them, which is fantastic. Kristina here asks around funding, and she said what kind of funding is available for… what she’s asking about the conservation leadership course that you do Chris, but I think I’d like to broaden it out a little bit more actually and ask – obviously courses are not cheap, they’re a big investment of time and money, do you… are you aware of like funding support, scholarships, bursaries, whatever it might be to enable people to come on your course, if funding is an issue for them?

CHRIS: Yeah, so it’s a huge question. We’re in a fortunate position with our Masters that we have a number of full scholarships available, but particularly for students who come from countries in the global south, and that’s not of any value to British applicants, who ironically actually can find that there’s less funding available for them than there is for students who come from what we think of as less well-off backgrounds, because of the scholarships that are available. And then there are other scholarships kind of within the central University that people can apply to and, you know, hope for some success there.

And I think actually it’s worth making the broader point as well, but this is a huge problem in conservation, which, you know, you’re only too well aware of Nick, in the role that you’re doing with Conservation Careers which is, you know, a lot of the time, it’s this chicken-and-egg situation where people need some experience to get employed or they need a degree to feel that they’re going to get employed and it costs money, and only certain people are in a position where they’re able to volunteer or live locally enough to a potential employer to come and do some voluntary work.

And that is a huge sort of selective pressure on a certain kind of person to be eligible to get into a conservation career, often because they’re already quite well-off and well located. And that means that conservation is missing out on some amazing talent, in fact continuing to be a not very diverse sector in terms of socioeconomic background, which is a big problem.

So you know, we’ve been trying quite hard, you know, building in Cambridge to not offer unpaid internships, for example, to only have internships that are paid, so that they’re available to anybody. And of course that perhaps means there are fewer positions available which might be even more of a bottleneck but at least it takes away the kind of unfairness aspect of expecting people to work for free in order to get into the conservation sector.

NICK: That’s great, and it would be great if other organisations followed suit, too. You know, it’s wonderful that, you know, Cambridge Conservation Centre are leading by that.

ADA: So our situation is similar to Chris’s in that we get scholarships for African students through benefactors but it’s sort of… students may find that UK students actually have fewer scholarships available to them. The good thing is that because you’re not studying full-time, then you can do it alongside the job you already have if you’re fortunate enough to have one where you can do a part-time job and do our course. Or even in fact, you could do the job alongside, you know, when you’re about to finish a career break for example, we get a lot of carer-switchers who, you know, have finished or about to finish bringing up a family and they want to get back into their career or they want to switch career and do it that way.

NICK: Yeah, great. I saw some questions in the comments you know also about career breaks as well, so thanks that you sort of related to that nicely. Chloë just kind of, just to swing back to you to give you an opportunity to talk about, is there funding available, are you aware of any funding schemes, if that is something that, you know, would be of interest to people?

CHLOË: Um, so funding is one of the primary barriers to doing a Masters programme. We do have a number of scholarships available, many of which are operated centrally through the University so you will be introduced to the different opportunities at the point of application. Quite a few of them are focused on global south, but we offer a couple of small schemes for students from other nations applying to the course.

But it should be said that those, particularly those small schemes, they won’t cover the full cost of the course and unlike Ada, ours is a full-time intensive course where working alongside it is often simply not an option, or at least not working in any major capacity alongside the course. So it is a very big commitment, and the reasoning being that it offers you an opportunity to move your career somewhere that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. So it’s sort of a forward planning career resilience step.

NICK: Fab, thank you. Well we’re coming to the end really, we’ve got about five minutes left. So I’ll try and ask a few more questions from my comments stream before we wrap up. Kristianne, hey Kristi, asking the question of all three of you – thanks for all the information you’ve shared so far; as successful academics, what advice would you give people who are looking to follow in your footsteps? So it’s more like general careers advice for academic, you three are all doing well in your careers, what advice would you give someone who is looking to follow in your footsteps? Who’s going to be brave enough to answer that one?

CHLOË: I think Chris answered that a bit earlier and I think it was very, very true. I think there are three components, all of which I agreed with. The first is develop your competency, either through this kind of degree or through professional experience; the second is, have a good bit of luck; and the third is, you know, be the best. Work hard. Commit to these kind of courses, they are short and intense, they will throw an awful lot at you in the course of the year, but commit yourself to the course, take it on and do your best and it will, along with the other elements, offer a reasonable chance of converting into some professional advancement.

NICK: Thank you.

CHRIS: And I think, the academic world is particularly in how sort of pointy the triangle is, I suppose, if that makes any sense, that you know, you can have 100+ people in an Undergraduate cohort, you know, becomes 20-odd people in a Masters cohort, becomes five PhD students, two post-docs and then ultimately one person makes it as a faculty academic. You know, it’s a very… every step of the process, you know, there are only a relatively small proportion of people will be able to kind of carry on through. So it’s quite a, you know, as Chloë says, it’s a question of, you know, working hard and being good at it as much as possible.

ADA: I would second that and my advice would be to just remember that there is more than one path to being a successful academic. Because I’ve met so many people who have sort of… meandered is the wrong word, because it’s kind of like you’re purposeless, but there are skills that you can gather in other fields that would make you arguably a much more successful academic than if you sort of follow-through the pipeline, which always makes me think of making sausages. Which is not very pleasant. And it does take quite a lot of luck, and I think open up to different opportunities, because success looks different in different fields and for different people, and ultimately the extra skills that you might gain actually make you more competitive because if everyone else followed through the pipeline, and you bring experience from governance or even management, those are very valuable skills.

NICK: Yeah, thank you, fabulous. And that’s it timewise, so thank you everyone for joining us this evening. I’ve been looking at the comments, we’ve answered as many as we can. I’ve seen quite a few comments asking specifics like, do you have a GIS course or a veterinary course, or how much does your course cost, things like that. I mentioned at the top we’ve launched a new area of our website where we have nearly 1,500 courses listed.

Chris, Chloë and Ada’s courses are all on there featured at the top so if you want to find out more about their course, feel free to drop in. If you go to our website you’ll see a menu item there called “Training”, click that and away you go.

All the courses are there and you can find out as much as you want, we have many GIS courses and others in there. And it’s free to view, just go in and have a look.

As part of the launch for the courses that we did this week, we’re actually searching for the top conservation training opportunities or courses (e.g. postgraduate training for conservation) globally, so if you’ve been on a course, whether it’s a short course, it might be an online course, or another type of course, it might be a Masters type of degree or similar, a Postgraduate Certificate or diploma, we’d love to hear your views and your ratings. Find the course, give it some feedback, give it a star rating, give it a review, tell us what you thought of it, that’ll help other people find the right course for them.

We’re also looking for recommendations of courses, so if you jump in and find a course you’ve been on that you loved is missing, tell us. We’d love to have that course in the mix too. Anyone who reviews or recommends a course, a training opportunity, all shapes and sizes will get into a free prize draw to win a place on our Conservation Careers Academy, so just jump in, give us a rating or recommendation, and that’ll help kind of grow the set.

Thank you again for joining, everyone online, all our participants, we’ve had around 50 people online the whole time, which has been wonderful. We’ll make this recording available for you guys to watch again, the people who have also registered and want to watch it, we’ll be sharing that very soon.

Big thank you to Chris, Chloë and Ada for sharing your time, your knowledge and expertise, it’s been really nice having you on the call. I’ve really enjoyed myself, I hope you guys have as well. Yeah, we’ll be sending the recording out soon so it’s just really for me to say goodbye, we’ll see you on the next webinar, and thank you again. All the best, everyone.

ADA: Thank you everyone.

CHLOË: Thank you.

CHRIS: Thank you very much.

Careers Advice, Webinars