A Focus On Nature

A Vision For Nature

The green potential of students – by Ellen Marshall

Welcome to our series of blog posts in the run up to the general election (7th May 2015). Over this month AFON members will share their own Visions for Nature: what they want the natural world to look like by 2050 and how they want to get there. We have created a hashtag on Twitter so why not join the conversation? What’s your #VisionforNature?

I struggled with a concept for this blog. I felt like I was a bit too green (excuse the pun) to talk with authority and knowledge about many issues that face nature today. So instead, I’ve drawn on my own experiences to talk about something that I am only just embarking on, and that is a career in the Green sector.

I enjoyed Biology at A-level, and so I bumbled my way through my Biology degree with no idea of future career, gradually reaching in my third year a majority of ecology modules. From a year group of 300 biology students, only 7 of us graduated in Ecology. Careers advice at this time consisted of graduate schemes in accounting and banking, industry years for pharmaceutical companies, and law conversion degrees.  At 20, when I was still a bit confused and unsure about what I wanted to do, these options weren’t exactly inspiring, and I was in the dark about what jobs were out there. I will also freely admit I was rather stereotypically lazy, and didn’t do much career searching or extra curricular activities. I decided I just sort of liked learning and ecology and enrolled on a Masters course.

This is when everything changed for me. As part of the course, I spent three months doing a research project at RSPB Abernethy reserve. I will forever be grateful for those three months, and I left a large chunk of my heart in the Cairngorms. It was as though a light had been switched on. I met so many people doing so many different things, from ecologists to reserve wardens to scientists, volunteers, journalists, and community officers. All of these were careers I had never really understood or considered before. All of these people were working to save and improve our natural world, were passionate about our environment and all the creatures in it. I felt like I had stumbled into a new world of unknown opportunities. And I also thought “Why am I only experiencing this now? How did I get through 3 years of university without knowing that these people and career paths were out there?”

RSPB Abernethy

Of course, a lot of it was due to my own ignorance. But I really think that university is the time to recruit and inform young adults about their options for the future. Other blogs have noted the importance of enthusing the young generation, and this is no different. So this is my vision for nature. Enthuse the children, enthuse the teens, but don’t forget to enthuse the students. Heck, enthuse those that-have-always-liked-nature-but-happened-to-work-in-something-else. Enthuse everyone! In a university somewhere, there might be an unsure, confused and slightly lazy 20 year old with potential to make an enormous contribution to saving our natural world, wavering over whether to take more molecular modules than ecological because it appears there are more career options. To preserve what we can of our natural world, we will need all the talent we can get.  We need university careers advice that considers green sector jobs. We need universities that promote ecology/conservation modules and their potential as much as biochem and molecular topics. We need to bring in relevant speakers for ecology students, we need relevant industry placements.

For me, I’m playing catch up in all the things I never knew I loved. I’m birding, I’m chasing butterflies, I’m volunteering, I’m peering into bat boxes and identifying poos. It’s paid off with a job as a trainee ecologist. And I hope that wavering 20 year old student is given the information, options and opportunities to discover the delight and satisfaction I have so far in this career path.

Ellen Marshall is an ecologist in training and York Ecology MRes graduate with a passion for wildlife and the great outdoors. You can follow her on Twitter at: @ellensophiem