Traditionally, it has been true that the route to a job in conservation was via a university degree in Life Sciences, such as Biology, Botany, (Marine) Ecology and Zoology. Over the decades, the number of degree subjects has expanded to include interdisciplinary courses ranging from environmental management to conservation biology and sustainable development. Worldwide, there is now a huge number of undergraduate and Master’s courses on offer involving environmental stewardship and sustainability, as this blog post indicates. Academics have observed that there is a generational shift towards a new type of sustainability scholar with a more holistic view than the older scientists.
The growth of university degrees in conservation, especially in developing countries for example in Asia, is a positive trend. However, for many students the cost of a university education has increased even more, so they wonder whether it is worth making such an investment in a university degree? This is a valid question given the current competitive job market all over the world. The answer is tricky and almost always goes “it depends..”. The latter means it is not just a matter of finances, but also what career path you would like to follow, based on your own interests, and at what level.
Our advice, for those who are genuinely interested in working in conservation, is to educate yourself about the diverse career paths from an early age. This can be through school clubs or local projects, and especially by talking to people who already work in conservation. In this career guide, we have identified seven broad directions, ranging from fieldwork to NGO jobs to media-careers. Many of these opportunities do require a degree, however there are certainly exceptions, and we will highlight these with real-life examples throughout the guide.
The bottom-line remains that a university degree certainly helps when applying for jobs, but employers also look for work experience and skills. This is where volunteering can be very useful, but make sure to select high-quality projects that can provide plenty of such relevant experience and skills. If studying at Uni is not for you, then there are certainly new options that are based on vocational training and work experience.