Kath Beasley (pronouns: she/her) is an ecology and conservation biology graduate, based in the UK, beginning to enter the world of wildlife work. Kath has been certain of her career path from a very young age and is working towards her dream job as an ecologist in big cat conservation. She has focused on building her portfolio of practical experiences from her own local area in the UK to more exotic destinations like Borneo and Costa Rica. We caught up for this conversation when she had just returned from a trip to Borneo where she worked as a research assistant on a tropical bird conservation project – but also managed to see one of her favourite cats, the Clouded Leopard! We discuss setting and pursuing professional goals early on in your career and gaining experiences and connections to get your foot in the door.
From the very beginning, Kath has always been crazy about wildlife and spent her spare time outside – covered in mud, running around, picking up fossils and looking at insects! At five years old, Kath was on a family holiday in South Africa when she first encountered big cats – and since then, her end goal became to work in cat conservation and research.
“I’ve been slowly trying to work towards that and I’m hoping to study a PhD when I work out exactly what I want to do in cat conservation.”
She began volunteering pretty much as soon as she could and enrolled in wildlife conservation at university. Kath decided to take a placement year from uni, providing her with some excellent opportunities to gain practical fieldwork skills and networking opportunities. When we caught up for this discussion, she had just returned from Borneo in south-east Asia where she worked as a research assistant on a project that studied the impact of logging on bird populations. This exciting role involved mist netting and banding birds, and learning about tropical ecology and conservation!
PURSUING CAREER GOALS
Having a clear vision for exactly what she intends to pursue is something she has always had and feels very lucky to have. However, being specific in her end-goal hasn’t stopped Kath from saying yes to opportunities as they arise, even if they don’t completely align with cat conservation. Kath explains:
“Conservation’s all about the networking and the people you meet. The more you do when you’re in those circles, the more opportunities that come out of it.”
A good example of this was Kath’s most recent trip to Borneo which had a focus on working with birds. And yet, whilst spotlighting around the camp at night, she managed to get eyes on a Clouded Leopard – a total dream come true for an aspiring cat conservation biologist!
Quite early on, Kath made herself some short-term and long-term career goals, in order to show herself she was making progress towards her ultimate dream of working in feline conservation.
“Growing up in the UK, I knew I wasn’t going to be working with cats anytime soon, so instead, I’ve worked towards getting more realistic career goals for the short term: working with UK Wildlife and building my skills to make myself more employable.”
When Kath was in high school, she began looking at ecological job websites, just to see what types of careers are realistically out there.
“I had my dream career in my head, but didn’t know whether or not it was actually a payable job.”
When she started to realise there were real jobs out there that aligned with her big goal, Kath would investigate further, looking at the experience and knowledge required to apply.
“And I started to formulate a list of what skills I needed to acquire in order to apply for those kinds of positions.”
And when she started university, Kath started looking at the short-term career goals she had set, and looked at the relevant jobs that offered good numbers of entry-level positions like environmental consultancy. Kath rinsed and repeated the process, looking at the skills and experiences needed to succeed at these jobs until her role with big cats finally manifested!
THE HUMAN-WILDLIFE INTERFACE
Kath is fascinated by the idea of ultimately working to solve human-wildlife conflict for cat conservation – exploring ideas like trophy hunting and co-existence of predators with community in order to see them thrive in the future.
Kath is aware of the importance of the human-aspects of wildlife conservation and for this reason, she has an interest in science communication. This began during her placement year with the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust when taking tours and working with the public.
“I was taking tours for school groups, families – and introducing kids to nature which I found so rewarding!”
More recently, her passion for science communication manifests in the form of a blog which she writes on sustainable living and sustainable products, as well as wildlife travel. Kath has a huge passion for travel but is also conscious of the ecological footprint this can have on the planet:
“My passion for travel is kind of like an internal battle because obviously I’m so aware of being able to travel sustainably and my carbon footprint.”
“I love traveling but I do try to limit my flying wherever possible (even if the journey takes much longer), and remain aware of where I’m going, what I’m doing and the impact of that on local wildlife and communities.”
Kath’s 3 top tips for pursuing a career in wildlife conservation early on are:
- Build your experience
“I think it’s really important to get out and get as much experience as you can, because even if it’s not exactly what you think you might want to do, all skills are transferable and you’re always networking and meeting people.”
Good places in the UK to start with this are the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB as well as your university lecturers if you’re studying
- Speak to people and get advice
“Even if there’s nothing advertised, reach out and contact organisations”
- Learn about what career opportunities are out there
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