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Tips for students who want to pursue careers in conservation

This page includes advice for students who are considering careers in conservation or wildlife science. The following tips are quotes from leading conservation scientists and biologists who conducted interviews with mongabay.com.




African conservationist Tim Davenport's conservation career advice:
    Firstly, I'd say that whilst biology is the traditional route, there are many other much needed - and often underutilized - skills too, including economics, the law, sociology, IT, anthropology, politics, education, etc. The key skills needed by a conservationist however, are a broad general knowledge and good people skills. So the more people can travel, read and listen, to as many different places, on as many different subjects and to as many different opinions as possible, the better.

    And finally don't give up. If you do, you were probably not right for conservation in the first place.
African conservationist Tim Davenport: Dr. Davenport talks about conserving wildlife in Tanzania, Africa's most biodiverse country.
Amazon researcher Dr. Philip Fearnside's conservation career advice:
    Conservation is a wide field that requires skills in many areas. Obviously, biology represents the core of most activities. However, geography is also much in demand, especially use of geographical information systems (GIS) and remote sensing techniques. Anthropological studies in the various kinds of sustainable development reserves and in buffer areas are also important. In general, however, the best advice is to learn the core science first, in this case conservation biology, and then pick up specific tools such as GIS as a complement, rather than the reverse.
Amazon researcher Dr. Philip Fearnside: Dr. Fearnside, an Amazon rainforest researcher in Brazil talks about the future of the Amazon.
Tropical Biologist William F. Laurance's conservation career advice:
    I think one can go about this in different ways. One way is to go the science route, another is the multidisciplinary route. Either way, the key is to work overseas and thereby get hands-on experience. The key is to develop long-term expertise in a particular area. Adopt a rainforest, and work to save it!
Tropical Biologist William F. Laurance: Dr. Laurance, an Amazon rainforest scholar talks about threats to rainforests.
Canopy expert Meg Lowman's rainforest research advice:
    Please hurry! The rain forests needs bright, thoughtful students who love science but are also willing to work hard speaking to the public about important policy issues. And don't forget to vote -- our political leadership has a lot of influence on international conservation of forests and other ecosystems. Conservation starts at home and every student can educate those around him or her.
Canopy expert Meg Lowman: Dr. Lowman says that canopy research is key to understanding rainforests.
Tropical Biologist David L. Pearson's career advice:
    There are both undergraduate and graduate degrees in conservation biology, but probably more than these we need lawyers, business people, engineers, politicians, and decision makers trained well in their discipline but with an understanding and appreciation of the necessity of managing the natural world rationally. Biologists may help supply a lot of basic data and information, but few biologist are likely going to make the final decisions and economic determinations that will impact biodiversity and habitats.
Tropical Biologist David L. Pearson: Dr. Pearson discusses global biodiversity, education, and what it takes to become a conservation scientist.
Tropical Biologist Mark J. Plotkin's career advice for aspiring ethnobotanists:
    The first thing you need to do is travel and explore get some field experience! There's a lot of romantic notions about discovering cures from rainforest plants but, in reality, the third world can be a tough place, so you need to go and experience yourself. A great place to start is programs that offer you some emersion in the sort of environment that might be involved in ethnobotanical work. The School for Field Studies and Earthwatch are two excellent programs. With regard to education, working with indigenous people can require different background, depending on precisely what you want to do. Given the current job market, I'm not sure a PhD is the best guarantee of a job fledgling ethnobotanists might consider a joint Master's in botany and anthropology.
Tropical Biologist Mark J. Plotkin: Dr. Plotkin, an ethnobotanist discusses indigenous people and the threats they face.
Biologist Peter H. Raven's career advice for aspiring ethnobotanists:
    In order to achieve global sustainability, we must all work together. Recycling, energy conservation, and all of the efforts that we hear about will help. People who pursue careers in science and technology in relation to conservation will be able to help a lot, but it is basically conservation practiced by everyone throughout the world that is going to get us where we want to go. Students should know that there are wonderful efforts in conservation and science related to conservation, where huge contributions will be made, and where there's a great deal of room for innovative people, whether on the theoretical or scientific end of matters, or on the application of what we know: just getting "out there" and doing good things building towards sustainability.
Tropical Biologist Mark J. Plotkin: Dr. Plotkin, an ethnobotanist discusses indigenous people and the threats they face.
Lemur expert Charlie Welch's career advice for aspiring primate conservationists:
  • Be proactive about volunteer opportunities. Look for opportunities to volunteer by starting out locally - inquire at zoos, museums, conservation organizations, etc. near to where you live. Experience is important, and will also let you know if you want to continue along the same line. For internships, be willing to pay your own way if necessary, as a trade off for the experience think of it as an investment.
  • While taking university classes, do not be too specific with the scope of the classes you choose. In addition to the standard zoology, animal behavior, and conservation biology classes, try to work in related classes such as ecology, and botany. Every field primatologist finds botanical knowledge useful, but many have little formal training. Understanding of GIS mapping is becoming essential for conservation work of all types. Think outside of the box about what training you may need and get the advice of other field researchers, and those working in conservation.
  • Still about useful skills do not ignore language training. One of the most useful tools for anyone working overseas is the ability to communicate. Spanish is probably the most useful for American students interested in working in the new world, and French for those interested in the Africa region. Take advantage of study abroad opportunities to hone language skills. Language proficiency is very important, yet often ignored by researchers in training. Even if one were to completely change career directions, ability in a second language is almost always a bonus.
  • Lastly, I think I would warn that really impacting conservation of primates (or all flora and fauna for that matter!) means having the ability to work well with people. Sometimes people get into animal work of one type or another because they feel that they don't relate well to people. Truly impacting conservation means interacting with people in a positive manner, whether it be indigenous locals, government officials, foreign students, or conservation professionals. It can take tons of patience, and sensitivity to a different culture, but in the end is an absolutely essential skill. Of course this is not the sort of thing that is taught in a university (I don't think) yet is often overlooked, and misunderstood by researchers and conservationists.
Lemur expert Charlie Welch: Charlie Welch says that lemur conservation in Madagascar requires helping the poor. Graduate programs
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