So you want to be…an Ecologist

Is your student looking for career ideas? In the first of an occasional series, Natalie Moutafis talks with people in different careers about their jobs. Here, she discovers what it's like to work with the natural environment.

In the first instalment of our new careers series, Natalie speaks with Caitlin about how she became an Ecologist.

When did you know you wanted this career? 

From a young age, I showed an interest in nature. I was always in the garden collecting insects and loved any outdoor activities. I remember learning about plants and photosynthesis in Grade 3. That was probably when my career aspirations first started. I knew I preferred wild animals over plants and so decided I wanted to be a zookeeper. It wasn’t until I got to university that I discovered that you didn’t need to work at a zoo to work with wildlife, although that is still always an option.

Did you choose subjects in high school to aid you in this career path?

I did, and I didn’t. I chose subjects I enjoyed, and some of those just happened to fit in with my career path. I loved studying maths and science, biology was a particular favourite. But I also enjoyed performing arts like Drama and Dance. My school supported me in undertaking a Certificate II in Dance externally that was included in my ATAR results.

Did you undertake further education (University, TAFE, on-the-job training etc.) for this career?

I went to Deakin University and studied a Bachelor of Environmental Science (Wildlife and Biology Conservation) with an additional Honours year. Whilst there are opportunities to work in environmental conservation without going to university, my current job required at least a bachelor’s degree with honours. Through my work, I also get a lot of on-the-job training and have undertaken courses such as snake handling, first aid and learning to drive a 4WD safely.

What do you love about your career?

I love that my job is working directly with some of Australia’s most threatened fauna and flora and making a real impact to solve Australia’s extinction crisis.

Additionally, I have been lucky enough to travel to some incredible places in this country and see animals in the wild that most people will only see in Zoos or documentaries.

What do you wish you knew about your career before you started?

I wish I knew what a wide variety of jobs existed for working in environmental science and conservation. There are lots of different areas that someone with a background in environmental science can work in, depending on their interests.

I currently work in the not-for-profit sector undertaking on-ground conservation work for threatened mammals. I have also worked in consulting for large infrastructure projects such as wind farms. There are many different areas to work including government, tourism, research, and land management just to name a few.

Any advice to students contemplating this as a career path?

For any students interested in becoming an ecologist or interested in anything to do with the environment try to volunteer with environmental organisations and citizen science projects. It’s a great way to meet people in the industry, learn skills and find things you enjoy and would like to pursue further.

Additionally, to any student trying to decide on a career, the best advice I have is to follow your passions. Even the best jobs have their challenges, but it’s a lot easier to be motivated for something you’re interested in and care about.

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