I do occasional guest lecturing on my research experiences and findings for college students visiting the Greater Kruger area through African Conservation Experience. It is an awesome opportunity that I love. When I drove out to a lodge to give my most recent lecture, I missed my turnoff and ended up looking for somewhere to turn around. It was a very quiet Sunday morning and I came to a big metal gate across the road. I was about to turn around when I saw someone lying on the ground by the gate. A motorcycle lay haphazardly next to him and he only had one shoe on. It was clear that he had had an accident and that he had been there awhile. I stopped and I helped him. Once I knew he was in safe hands, I turned my car around, found my turnoff, and did my lecture on leopard population dynamics.
At the end of the lecture, one of the teachers asked me to share my advice to the students about how to get into conservation. I talked about doing the right university degrees, working hard, being persistent, obtaining lots of field experience, and networking. I didn’t talk about being lucky, although reflecting on it, I think being lucky has influenced how my career has progressed so far.
Working in conservation is tough. A recently published paper describes the challenges that conservation biologists face including conflicts between family and work interests, and working under stressful conditions that can lead to burnout. It is a tough field but the study also concluded that most conservation biologists enjoy their careers. It is a job people do for the love of it.
In conservation, there is a surprising amount of competition and a whole lot of rejection involved with getting jobs, finding funding, and publishing results. In my experience, no matter how much effort and hard work you put in, rejection is still a big part of working in wildlife conservation. My PhD supervisor told me that I would become calloused to this over time. I’m getting there but I am definitely still a soft-shelled crab and some days it feels like I’m sandwiched between two pieces of bread about to get munched. A bit of luck mixed with a lot of hard work and determination helps to sway things in the right direction though. Getting my last job in conservation was partially due to luck, and luck was a large component of my PhD funding.
I think that luck is lots of little interplaying variables that create a favourable outcome through a complex chain of cause and effect. Some of the variables are completely out of your control and others are not. My mum told me that she thought that some people are born lucky. I used to find four leaf clovers all the time as a child and press them in the pages of my dictionary. I have won a quite unattractive sweatsuit, an iron, and 10 pizzas in competitions. I thought I was pretty lucky in general. Looking at my amazing husband and incredible son, I know I’m still very lucky, even though I don’t find four leaf clovers anymore. This could be due to living in the African bush though; there aren’t too many clovers here.
Career-wise, I am in a position now where I have put in years of hard work and I am continuing to put in more, while waiting for a little bit of luck. On Twitter someone posted about how they were counting their money in terms of how many months post-PhD they could afford to be unemployed. That’s the hard bit, not knowing how long it will be until the right job comes up and you get selected from the hundreds of other desperate and deserving souls, or basically until you get lucky. But here is the thing about wildlife conservationists, we don’t give up, we wait, we work hard, and we put up with a lot of challenging circumstances because we do it for the love of the job and for the love of the planet. We believe in hard work and luck. It is definitely worth it.
The last things conservation biologists need while they are soldiering on are funding cuts and poor environmental policies. This just makes it even tougher for us to get lucky in following our dream career paths and harder for us to make the differences that the world’s wildlife desperately need right now. Everyone should support conservation because well, if we don’t, there will be no future for this planet and its wildlife. I’ll get off my soapbox now.
The motorcycle guy broke a few bones but he was okay. His mum said that God must have sent me. I don’t think so. I think I just suck at following directions and that he got lucky that I found him and that I stopped.