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Do you need a degree to work in wildlife conservation?

Most people will tell you:

you have to had a degree to work in wildlife conservation”.

And yes – kind of – it certainly increases your chances of working in a science- or trade-based positions. But there’s a reason I say “kind of”…

As equally, it’s partly not true. What I mean is that there are many opportunities available to passionate people who don’t have or haven’t finished a formal qualification in wildlife conservation.

So, do you need to get a qualification to work in wildlife conservation? What kind of qualification (and what level) do you need? Next blog post also looks at how to know if you’re ready to start studying?

Do I need a degree to work in wildlife conservation? | #itsawildlife

In this post, we answer any and all of your qualification-related questions, part of the how to work in wildlife conservation in 10 steps series.

For full disclosure that I received a bachelor of science in conservation ecology (a 3-year undergraduate degree) and an Honours (a 9-month-long Masters equivalent) a bit further down the track in order to become a field ecologist. Although study isn’t always necessary it did help me but ONLY when I was ready to commit to it.

Do you need a qualification to work in wildlife conservation?

For a science-based role, yes – usually you need an undergraduate ecologically-related science degree at a minimum – which takes three years to complete full time at university. As for which ecologically-related science you major in – that doesn’t seem to matter too much. So the choice is yours: marine science, zoology, botany, environmental science, ecology, forestry or any variation of these – it’s up to you!

For a more practical-based role in fields such as a land management, habitat restoration, seed collection and more – a science degree isn’t usually required however a certificate iii level (or equivalent) in land management is generally a great starting point to get your foot in the door.

One way round this is if you have a trade qualification in a useful field with “transferable skills”, for example, if you are a mechanic, a plumber, an electrician, a builder or carpenter. These skills and experience can get you a role in land management, especially in remote areas where these professions are highly sought after.

What level of qualification do you need?

If you are looking at a role as a field ecologist, a research assistant, a technical officer, often an Honours- or Masters-level qualification is highly regarded, recommended or sometimes even required. It can depend on the organization you are applying with but

But also – it’s partly not true. As in, there are plenty of opportunities available to people without a formal science or other qualification – and plenty of brilliant people who are just passionate, practical and have a “go get em” attitude.

If you would like to work in higher, often research-related or project management roles within most science-based organisations you will need to have a PhD in an ecological field. Although this usually takes 3-4 years full time, the great news is that you usually receive money from the university (and often more in the form of grants) while you work on it. The process of undertaking your PhD is also a fantastic way to become an expert in your field and allows you to gain and demonstrate experience in a whole variety of skills such as research, project/volunteer coordination, excellent time management, scientific publication, professional collaboration – the list goes on.

Receiving a PhD in a field you are interested in not only allows you to become an expert (by publishing papers, presenting at conferences and generally dedicating your life to the project over a number of years) – but you can also meet other people who are experts within your field. This recognition of your PhD’s contribution from collaborators or other organisations can lead to paid work following (and sometimes throughout!) your PhD study.

Now I think it’s important you know that doing a PhD (or any form of study really) is not the only way to receive credibility and recognition within the field of ecology. But it is a very accepted one and it can become an expectation within some organisations.

You can absolutely gain all those skills we listed above and MORE via different avenues – the compromise is luck and time. Usually, you have to work many years with an organization and move up from lower to higher levels in order to get a position you can apply for initially with a PhD.

But it totally can be done. But these are simply considerations to be mindful of.

How do you know if you’re ready to start studying?

For some people, studying is more of a background activity whereas for other people it is more of a full-time commitment. It can be the same qualification and same level and it will mean different things to different people.

One piece of tried and tested advice is before you start studying any qualification at any level:

Love your subject and respect your teachers.


What I mean by that is if you feel passionate about the subject and you know you can get along (and respect) your primary lecturers, professors, supervisors – then you are in good stead for an enjoyable study experience. Period.

Another piece of great advice is:

Keep your eyes on the end prize.


Some days, some weeks, some semesters will feel frustrating – boring units, bad grades, terrible lecturers, difficult schedule to fit in with your life – whatever makes it challenging to you, if you remember WHY you are studying it will be much more meaningful and motivating for you to push through those difficult times.

 Now we have written a whole blog post on this topic, a “checklist” if you will to help you determine whether or not you’re ready to start studying. So head over there or read any of our other #itsawildlife blog posts for more advice on this subject.

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