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The holy grail in ecology: landing a full-time job with Jannico Kelk

Jannico Kelk (pronouns: he/him) is an ecologist and wildlife photography enthusiast, a precursor to his pursuit of this career path. From exciting short-term roles catching animals for field guide photographs and Netflix documentaries, to more stable long-term roles, Jannico’s passion and career has taken him all around Australia and all over the world. We caught up with Jannico to talk about his experience within the wildlife industry, the merits of shorter-term contracts compared with permanent positions as well as his advice for people navigating this space.

This blog post covers only a snap shot of our discussion so for more of our conversation, tune into the podcast and listen there!

The holy grail in ecology: landing a full-time, permanent job with Jannico Kelk | #itsawildlife

JANNICO’S JOURNEY

From a young age Jannico was always interested in wildlife:

“I was that weird kid that would just run around catching snakes and put him in shoe boxes – and mom would just go absolutely bananas… then in my teen years I sort of forgot about all that as school and other stuff popped up. And then after I graduated, I started getting back into wildlife again”

Jannico didn’t initially find ecology as a career pathway after school: after trying on engineering and music for size, he eventually returned to his childhood passion for wildlife.  Part of this process was when Jannico found an online community of herpers, people who head out looking for wild reptiles and frogs as a hobby. Eventually, Jannico met up with several members of these groups and together they took herping trips around Australia

“One of the things I wanted to do was document it, taking photos of all the animals we found… So, I got really obsessed with herping between the ages of 21 till about 28”

During this time, Jannico spent most of his free time herping across Australia and the world. And as his passion for photography grew, the balance changed from finding as many animals as possible to taking the nicest photo possible. During this time, Jannico met his partner, Jasmine, an ecologist and wildlife photographer and they started having herping adventures together.

“I pretty much spent like my early twenties running around Australia, just looking for reptiles and then graduated to finding reptiles and frogs overseas.”

To fund this, Jannico worked as a fauna spotter catcher for about five years – a job that put more fuel on the fire and gave him plenty of hands on experience with wildlife! But after a while, he hit a ceiling and went back to university to complete a degree in this field before jumping back into the workforce.

“I pretty much hit the ground running, with casual, initially by balancing multiple short-term contracts with a bunch of small conservation NGOs like Arid Recovery and South Endeavor, and later in more permanent positions like WSP”

Although in hindsight, it may seem like things flowed seamlessly for Jannico, he says –

“It didn’t seem like it was flowing at the time, but yeah, it’s kind of worked out!”

Initially, everyone is stumbling around, finding their way, which can be quite frustrating at the time – but persistence pays off and it can definitely work out!

“That was some advice I got from an ecologist pretty early on: that the first three to five years are gonna be rubbish but eventually it just works out.”

SHORT- vs LONG-TERM CONTRACTS IN ECOLOGY

On top of longer periods of permanent employment in the wildlife space, Jannico has worked some exciting short-term contracts all over the world: catching animals for Netflix documentaries as well as finding rare frogs reptiles for field guide photography in Indonesia.

Although at times it might not be as adventurous or as typically glamorous to commit to permanent roles and full-time hours, Jannico told us there are certain perks to working long-term contracts too:

“Seriously though, having a full-time job was awesome and having the stability is quite nice. Like, it was really useful for saving up money, getting mortgages, having regular time off to spend with friends and family and that kind of stuff…”

So, definitely benefits to both, it all depends what you want from your job! For more discussion on this, tune into the podcast!

CAREER ADVICE

Although there’s a lot more of Jannico’s advice and experiences on the podcast, these are some of his top tips for getting work in the wildlife space:

  • Build your network

Although this is classically done through conferences, universities and work institutions, Jannico did this early on while following his passion for wildlife photography. Your network is quite handy when it comes to looking for a job or seeing what research projects are out there, especially when starting out or moving between short-term contracts.

“When you’re working short-term contracts, you’ve gotta have your fingers in a bunch of different pies. And that’s where the networking sort of gets really handy.”

But Jannico warns against being impatient when it comes to networking paying off –

The thing about networking is that a lot of people expect immediate gain, which is not how networking works. I find that I meet people at conferences or other professional spaces, head to the pub for a couple of drinks afterwards and just start talking… you might not hear from that person for like two or three years, but then one day they call saying “Hey, remember that time we did this. I have the perfect project where we can collaborate and work together”.”

  • Be flexible and go with the flow

“It’s good to keep your options open and just sort of go overflow as often work leads to more work (although it can certainly be stressful if it doesn’t, and you were expecting it to!”

  • Consider applying for entry level consultancy roles rather than internships

“As a consultant, you will get that experience anyway, that an internship will provide you and you’ll be getting paid the whole time. It might not be as fun or as glamorous that’s for sure, but there’s different ways to get that experience”

But ultimately, when push comes to shove, Jannico reminds us it’s ultimately all about timing, the economy, the job market and other factors way beyond your control.

“Recently, we were hiring people fresh out of undergrad, which is an amazing thing because we’re giving someone a fresh start and like a really good opportunity that took me 5 years to get!

What I’m saying is it’s just a really good time to be an ecologist right now. But when I started, it was kind of difficult – jobs were hard to get.”

WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY

While Jannico often feels people overstep the importance of wildlife photography for awareness and conservation storytelling, he believes its case by case:

“There’s a lot of good photos out there and there’s a lot of rubbish photos out there and it all just gets lost in the ether of the internet…. But nature documentaries like Blue Planet are great for getting people to care about the world”

Jannico has a unique approach with the photos he posts on his Instagram @jannicokelk: he likes photographing rare and largely unknown threatened species, and then sharing the story behind how he took the photos

“I find that making it a story is much more impactful: I share the journey I take to find the animal, how long it took me, or what I had to do to take the photos… I find that gets a lot more engagement and people really start to take notice of that rather than like putting up cool photos of endangered animals because they’re endangered – I find people sort of shut off”

“People tend to turn off as soon as you start saying this will be extinct and blah, blah, blah so you have to slide it into the conversation slowly”

KEEP IN TOUCH

Want to hear more from Jannico? Tune into the podcast to listen to our conversation. You can follow his adventures and wildlife photography on Instagram @jannicokelk.

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