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How to create stability on short-term contracts in ecology

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Today we are speaking not just to all you early-career biologists who still feel like you need to get your foot in the door – but rather to all ecologists and environmental professionals – because the reality of this industry is a certain degree of instability, uncertainty and periods of unemployment. While this might be a slightly morbid way to begin this blog post, it sets the scene for our (slightly more upbeat) topic for today – managing risks and creating stability and certainty on short-term contracts on short-term contracts in ecology.

Creating stability on short-term contracts in ecology | #itsawildlife

The world of wildlife science and conservation is an ever-evolving and unpredictable one. With the ever-changing environmental and funding conditions, the need for qualified professionals to fill crucial roles in the field is in varying demand, often with periods of boom and bust. Consequently, many of roles in the environmental and natural resource management sectors are filled through short-term contracts, leaving professional wildlifers with little stability or certainty, especially in the earlier years of their career.

The challenges of finding stability and certainty when moving between short-term ecology contracts are real. You may experience financial insecurity, a lack of long-term prospects, and an ever-shifting work environment. This lack of stability can create feelings of anxiety, fear, and doubt. It can also leave you feeling isolated and unappreciated, as you may not be able to feel connection and direction between roles or confidence in the process.

That is, that this pattern is a reflection of the industry itself rather than of your work ethic and passion.

Because these feelings have been all too real for me throughout my career so far (and likely will continue to be as we keep jumping between contracts), here are 4 tips from my experience that could assist you to create stability on short-term contracts in the ecology space:

  • Set personal goals
  • Establish a routine
  • Plan ahead and
  • Identify a base

Set personal goals

The first tip is to set personal goals for yourself outside the realm of work-related pursuits, a bit like a bucket list with all the places you’d like to experience, species you’d like to encounter, opportunities you’d like to take, things you’d like to create and people you’d like to spend time with. If you’re feeling unclear about the future and are anxious or hesitant to set longer- or even medium-term goals, then sit down and create a list of things you love, things that light you up and make you happy. This could be crafts, activities or hobbies you like to do, people you like to hang out with or even simple things like taking a hike, exercising or cooking.

Take the time to focus on what you love and what you want from life outside of work and try your best to incorporate at least some of these things into your every week.

Establish a routine

Whether daily or weekly, rigid or more go with the flow fluid, establishing and practicing a routine is an excellent way to bring structure and consistency to your life which can be transferred with you from place-to-place, contract-to-contract (or let’s be real, contract-to-gap-to-contract-to-gap).

Try and add some familiar activities into your day or your week, even if the timing needs to be more flexible around changing work commitments. It could be cliché things like morning meditation or yoga thrice weekly – or more personal things like meal prepping, taking a long dog walk or watching a movie every Sunday. Think of things that are important to you outside of work and that you’d like to carry with you between contracts.

After all, the time you spend ideally reflects what you care about – and it’s important to do things t nourish and support yourself, especially when no one else is!

Plan ahead

I know how challenging it can be to have things thrown into disarray at the last minute – contracts cancelled, funding fallen through, flights missed, family disasters, COVID-19 – you name it, it’s not always possible to plan ahead to keep the journey smooth sailing.

However, it’s a good idea to give yourself the time to look and find opportunities early – I find at least a month or two usually works for me as a rough guide – to start applying for and planning out the next steps. If you can’t seem to find any paid opportunities coming through, a good option can be to look back on your goals or bucket list – think if there is travel, volunteer opportunities, courses or experiences you’d like to have that aligns with the upcoming period.

Another wonderful option is to take a well-deserved break between contracts and go home for a while…

Find a base

Identifying your base can be a comforting thought when your stricken by the anxieties and crazy feels of not having a purpose or direction to head in next. Try to take the pressure off yourself by allowing yourself to spend time at home – at your base – catch up with friends and family, return to a regular commitment (like volunteer wildlife caring or social sport) and enjoy relaxing and spending your time, enjoying time off – because chances are it won’t be for too long!

You’ll be back on the road to take another short-term contract sooner than you think!

Thank you for reading to the end – let us know whether you’ve found this article helpful or if you have any other suggestions on ways you create stability for yourself around short-term contracts in the ecology space. So reach out and let us know!

Always remember, #itsawildlife is here to give all you wildlife science and conservation professionals the stability and certainty you need to succeed. We provide the tools, resources, and support you in all your contracts – short and long – and have published countless interviews with other wildlifers – professionals in the industry at all stages of their careers – who also provide contact details so you can reach out and build your network. At #itsawildlife we are creating a safe and supportive community, allowing you to feel inspired to pursue new opportunities and connect and build meaningful relationships with other wildlifers. All the best!


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