Click to read: Stepping stones

Stepping stones

Currently based in Bath, I am an Animal Conservation student with Oxford Brookes University.  Being born and raised in Guernsey, I was lucky enough to visit Jersey Zoo almost every summer with my family.  I am now a data volunteer for the organisation’s Conservation Science Hub.  My interests lie in species conservation - particularly vertebrates, community engagement, and climate change adaptation.

It’s not often that the perfect opportunity presents itself at the perfect moment, but thankfully last year it did.  By securing a part-time volunteer role as Durrell index data processor in Durrell’s Conservation Science Hub in Bath, my life-long goal to work for Durrell was realised.  In a nutshell, I am responsible for collating, proofing and managing data that contributes to Durrell’s global indicators, working with Lianne Concannon and the rest of the Conservation Science team.

It is with the use of the Index that Durrell demonstrates its conservation impact.  It uses a set of indicators, timelines, and case studies to track the status of its species; the index demonstrates the difference Durrell makes in the world.

Growing up on the tiny island of Guernsey has rather amplified my already big dreams.  Getting a job in conservation is difficult, so the best way I can think to fulfil my dreams is to gain as much experience as I can before I enter the big bad world of work.   I have put together some thoughts on the importance of volunteering and what can be gained from it.

Proof that volunteering works

Demonstrate your work ethic

With experience on your CV, potential employers get to see you in action.  Not only does it enhance your skillset, it demonstrates your determination, work ethic, and ability to apply yourself to different situations.  What’s more, you could secure yourself some job winning references!

When I secured my place on an animal science degree 2 years ago, my tutor told me that the strength of my application lay with my client services job of four years, and more appropriately, my various volunteer roles in the field – proof that gaining ‘in the field’ experience speaks volumes.


Figure out if it’s for you

From a networking perspective, the conservation world may be small, but the range of jobs is vast.  Conservation science is evolving all the time, therefore, new opportunities regularly crop up.  By gaining experience in a number of areas it is possible to learn what the industry expects of you and the range of opportunities on offer (I’ve found this has helped me to narrow my career aspirations)

I have worked in a number of roles including a rescue centre, veterinary practice, and in the field in South Africa and Madagascar.  By working in animal rescue, I was able to conclude that it is not for me.  Both this, and my experience with Durrell allowed me to make an informed decision when applying for my BSc top up (Animal Conservation); during my first two years at university I studied animal science.  While I developed an understanding of animal health, my volunteer work in the field and with Durrell have exposed me to the pressures facing the environment, not to mention the pressures facing conservationists.  Moreover, I’ve experienced a variety of roles within the industry, which has taught me just what a job in the field entails, what is expected of me, and whether I could survive the industry.  Finally, the skills I developed in the field worked in my favour when applying to Durrell.


Network and shine

The best thing about volunteering is the opportunity to connect with people in the industry (those people know people!), ask them for their advice, and learn the ropes from professionals.  Moreover, it’s my chance to shine.  By demonstrating a willingness to learn and pitch in it is possible to display a range of attributes difficult to prove on paper.  I’ve also received various opportunities to attend events and lectures and will, hopefully, keep adding to my list of contacts!

In November I went to  London with the Durrell team for an exclusive event – an evening with David Attenborough and Alistair Fothergill!  I was extremely lucky to be given tickets, and had I not joined the team I would not have had this incredible opportunity.

The Durrell team in Bath have been extremely welcoming, they support me with my work, my degree, and provide me lots of advice, including career advice.  Having proved myself on my tasks, I have been referred to other projects.  Furthermore, this summer I got the opportunity to visit the Zoo in Jersey in order to conduct my dissertation study on their captive population of Livingstone’s fruit bats.  Off the back of this, I may even be heading back in the new year to carry out further observational studies.


Enhance your degree

In my opinion, facilitating your studies is second only to networking.  As well as enhancing my portfolio, volunteering has allowed me to apply the knowledge and skills I have learned in the classroom to real life.  I hope that my newly acquired skills will assist me in beating the competition!  It is much more economical to employ an individual who possesses practical experience than it is to train a ‘novice’.  Additionally, I have acquired a range of skills I won’t develop at college.

During my previous job in client servicing, I developed a whole range of administration skills, including data input/analysis.  I built upon these skills in a conservation context in South Africa, which helped me to secure my volunteer role with Durrell.  In addition to data processing, the team recently started training me to use GIS (Geographic Information System) – an important skill in conservation and one which has totally allowed me to indulge my inner geek!  Through learning new and relevant skills I feel just a little bit more prepared for the big world of conservation.


Do your bit

Since I am studying conservation, I am passionate about making a difference. Consequently, for me, volunteering isn’t just a foot in the door, it’s a rewarding experience.  Being a student can be frustrating; I am desperate to get started, but often it feels as though I am lacking the qualifications and contacts to really contribute at this point in my career, but I have found that by volunteering I can support important causes while studying. 

My voluntary role working on data with Durrell may seem tedious and unattractive to many, but this work directly impacts the Durrell Index.  Communicating Durrell’s research and conservation impact is important, and by directly assisting with this project I finally feel like I am contributing to conservation.  More importantly, I am finally making a positive contribution to Durrell’s work.

Posted 25 May 2017

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