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How To Work in Nature Conservation Without a Science Degree

Many of us have a passion for the great outdoors but struggle to turn that into a career. When you think of careers in nature conservation, what comes to mind? Environmental scientists, field biologists, or maybe even wildlife veterinarians? True, these roles are important (and very fun), but they are not the only ones.


Just as humans are beginning to grasp the urgency of the environmental crises in front of us, we are discouraged to act in fear of being too late. We are submitting to the belief that someone else will solve it all, whether they are the scientists on the front lines, the heartfelt advocates, their government, or the next generation.


In fact, many are weighed down by the misconception that to work in conservation you must be a researcher or well-published expert. Let me be the first to tell you, it couldn’t be farther from the truth.


As a conservation biologist myself, it may sound like a backward statement to publicize, but I know that the science track isn’t for everyone, and that shouldn’t be a barrier to those who are devoted to the natural world. For those of you that love the wild but loath biology class, listen closely. I will be answering my most asked questions from people who want to enter a career in this field.

Do I need to be a scientist to work in conservation?


Take a moment to consider what it takes to run a business, non-profit, or government agency. In most cases, scientists only make up a mere fraction of the staff. While education and advocacy must remain research-based, operations could not function with just scientists. Every worker is a valuable asset to the overall mission, and you could be one of those people!


There is also an ongoing conversation about whether scientists can be both unbiased researchers and activists. While every scientist I know is an advocate in one way or another, it is a line we must walk carefully to retain our credibility. Consequently, the fear of having bias, anthropomorphized, or limited scope as a scientist keeps many from speaking out in a way that can change minds and influence decision-making.


Don’t get me wrong, scientists are amazing and critical, but you certainly don’t have to become one in order to help mother nature. This planet simply needs you and all the skills, ideas, and dreams you have to offer.

What Paid Jobs can Impact Conservation (no biology degree required)?


Curious whether your day job is truly your passion or calling? Take a moment to consider if the issue stems from what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. More often than not, an unfulfilling work life comes from a gap where your purpose should be.

Imagine you are accomplishing the same daily tasks, but for an organization committed to regenerating coral reefs, protecting wild carnivores, or influencing climate policy. Without any change to your responsibilities, salary, or schedule, your work is now directly making a positive impact on the world around you. Sounds tempting, doesn’t it?


Perhaps you are entering the workforce or looking to shift careers altogether, but feel stuck on where to go. Below are some of the most influential and sought-after professionals in the conservation field, in no particular order.


• Educators, journalists, and communicators
• Community outreach organizers
• Artists, photographers, and filmmakers
• Marketers, social media experts, and web designers
• Politicians and lawyers
• Park ranger
• Policy advocates and analyzers
• Grant writers and fundraisers
• Accountants
• Real estate and city planning professionals
• Executives and assistants
• Human resource specialists
• Wildlife rehabilitators
• Sustainable architects
• Business owners and entrepreneurs
• Engineers and software developers
• IT and technology innovation
• Trail and open space maintenance crews
• Ethical tour guides
• Foresters
• Volunteer organizers and managers


Did any of those speak to you? If not, do not fret! This list is very limited and non-exhaustive. Virtually any degree or job can be found in the conservation field, it is just a matter of seizing opportunities as they cross you.


If you are comfortable with your career and who you work for, but you want to improve the sustainability of your workplace, there is plenty of initiative you can take! You can start a zero waste committee, create a compost system, sign up your workgroup to volunteer at a local open space, or join the diversity and inclusively team (because there is no environmental justice without social justice).

What experience do I need to work for a conservation organization or agency?


This completely depends on the role, but in many cases, these employers are after your transferable skills essential to the position, rather than extensive experience in the conservation field. They want to know that you can perform the job well and are passionate about their cause or mission, even if you don’t have formal knowledge of it. Education can typically be substituted for years of experience as well.


When applying for a job at a conservation organization or agency, take advantage of a few tips. If you are well versed in the tasks of the job but want to express your commitment to conservation, save this for the cover letter. Take a sentence or two to describe why you are passionate about the employer’s initiatives and how you are enthusiastic to benefit their cause.


Alternatively, if you are switching careers into the conservation field, you may want to include a “profile” section in your resume. A profile is a short snapshot that provides a chance to explain that you have chosen to make a career transition. This will help the hiring team understand why you may not have as much relevant experience and why you are interested in their open position. This is the only scenario in which I would recommend including a profile in your resume.

How can I support conservation as an artist or creative?

When I was young, I didn’t know how to combine my passion for animals and my love for art. It took pursuing a degree and impulse-starting an Etsy store to open my eyes to solutions right in front of me. Let me spare you that process and say that organizations are not only actively seeking artists, art is transforming the environmental movement.


How? Well, scientists aren’t always the best communicators, and we need more than communicating – we need storytelling. That’s where you come in! Regardless of your medium, you are a storyteller. Now more than ever, creatives are using their craft to reach people in a way statistics and figures can’t. As an artist, you have complete control over the story you tell and how.


What you use to make your art also has an impact on the environment, but you have the choice to make that a net positive impact.

Sustainable graphic design principles such as aligning with your client’s values is a great start. On the other hand, modifying the materials that go into your artwork or offsetting your carbon output may be your contribution. If your art is a papercraft, you can plant a tree for every item sold to replenish the resources you have consumed.

In many cases, artists will use their sales as a way to fundraise for a cause or organization, where even small donations can make a world of difference. Years ago, I transitioned from painting to graphic design in part because I was haunted by the waste that my art produced. From un-recyclable paint tubes to unfinished projects and supplies that would spoil.


At the time, I was so afraid of being an imperfect environmentalist or an eco-hypocrite, that I let myself tuck away a hobby that brought me so much joy. While I’m so glad with where graphic design has taken me, I often scold myself for that choice.


I understand now that we need imperfect environmentalists, and that without an extraordinary amount of privilege, it is nearly impossible to avoid eco-hypocrisy. Please, never force yourself to make that choice and rob your own joy.

Conclusion: Nature needs you, no matter your background or skills.


In short, conservation can be a weird, winding career path, but that’s what makes it exciting!


Depending on where you live, where you are willing to travel, and what your interests are, your path will be entirely different from anyone else. In this field, you may protect open spaces from poaching, defend wildlife in court, pilot drones, or help control the spread of invasive species. You may find yourself at sea or on a summit, in an office, or working from home.


By choosing this line of work, I have gotten the opportunity to rescue elephants, care for
Black-Footed ferrets, release sea turtles, and meet some truly extraordinary humans, all
before I graduated with a formal degree.

Now, I can’t imagine myself anywhere else. If helping the planet is your passion, but science makes your brain spin, there are plenty of other paths to wildlife conservation that don’t require a science degree.


I’ve learned that making the effort to pursue more meaningful work, the kind of work that inspires, motivates, and satisfies you (and those around you), is one of the most rewarding goals you can pursue in your career.


Now is your chance to build a narrative you are proud of. There is no need to force yourself into a role you don’t enjoy when you can make the greatest impact doing something you love.

Author

  • Kaitie Schneider runs her creative business, The Understory Studio while working as a full-time conservation biologist. She is inspiring action through art and researched-based science education.

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