How to maximize your early career experiences in conservation


How to maximize your early career experiences in conservation

Submitted by Emily Drystek, member of the Canadian Committee for the IUCN’s Young Professional Network.

With seven years working as an outdoor professional for Governments, organizations and non-profits, Emily just can’t get enough of nature. Between adventures and her day job at BC Parks in Canada, she loves to share her passion for all things wilderness and conservation through freelance writing.

For many of us, nature is a passion and some of us have turned that passion into a profession. Much like the hiking trails that inspire can also instill fear, so too does turning one’s passion into a profession. Like many doe-eyed youths, I too started down this path. Now I’ve almost come full circle, from my first job as a youth employee in parks to supporting a parks youth employment program. In between I’ve dabbled in research, worked and volunteered for non-profits and worked a variety of roles in government. I’m eager to share my experience with the hopes of making it a little easier for those who come after me.

  • Seek out a mentor… or two – You might be fresh out of school or still in classes and working on the side, but regardless of your situation, when you are starting your conservation career path a little guidance can go a long way. Maybe you don’t fully understand the gulf between policy and research, maybe your research permits keep getting rejected, or you just can’t seem to land a full-time position. It’s okay if you can’t solve these problems. They aren’t simple or discrete and there isn’t a manual that walks you through to a solution. So, try a different approach. Look for someone who is on the other side of the problem and see what they did to get there. Informational interviews or a more formal mentorship can be a great way to go about this. Not only can this provide you with ideas for a path forward, but learning from others is also an opportunity to access your field or organization’s hidden curriculum, which is another name for lessons learned that aren’t written down. As you start reaching out to others it’s always important to remember what worked for someone else isn’t necessarily going to work for you. So keep an open mind and continue to build your own perspective by learning about others’.


  • Turn that having no career path fear into something positive – I’ve always been self-conscious of my career track: one minute I am traipsing through a marsh teaching kids about frogs, another I’m in a lab with my eyes glued to a microscope identifying mosses and then it’s a desk job administering a grant program to support climate literacy. I’m literally all over the place, it’s no wonder I’ve never felt like I’ve been on a clear career path. I’ve always wondered if dentists or lawyers feel the same way about their careers. The answer is they probably do and it probably doesn’t matter. The average Canadian career takes a variety of twists and turns, even for doctors and lawyers. Statistics Canada backs this up in their 2014 labour force survey which found one in four university grads were thinking about going back to school. So does Workopolis, which found in their 2014 report that Canadians are expected to hold roughly 15 jobs over their careers, with over 50% of participants switching career paths two or three times. Going back to school or changing jobs is an inevitable part of being a curious and ambitious person. Now the great thing about working in conservation. Don’t like working with people, there’s a job for you in conservation. Like working with people, there’s also a job for you in conservation. Compared to other fields, working in conservation gives you the opportunity to explore the twists and turns of your career while staying in the same field. So focus on the freedom it offers to find a job that fits the life you want and try not to let that lack of structure get you down.


  • Lived experience is job experience – We all live dynamic lives which can support our career growth. Maybe you grew up caring for a relative, helping on the family farm, or overcoming physical and mental challenges. Unfortunately, this isn’t always recognized as work, although many of us in these positions would disagree. If you feel comfortable and can reasonably support how these lived experiences have provided you with skills or comparable experience, feel free to use them in your job application. If you don’t have much life experience to pull from you can always volunteer. It’s a very low-risk and low-cost way to gain experience. If you are in a place where you can work for free, volunteering is a great way to try out different jobs, learn soft and hard skills and expand your network. You don’t need to be volunteering with large mammals in a foreign country for volunteer experience to hold clout on your resume. Heck, just showing up to your local conservation area to help out shows you are passionate, civic-minded and knowledgeable. Remember, you are more than what you are paid to do.


#NatureForAll Newsletter

Keep up with #NatureForAll! Subscribe to our newsletter:

We respect your privacy.