Name: Elizabeth Long
Job Title: Director of Conservation Science
E-mail Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Company: Mohonk Preserve
Basic job description: I oversee the Conservation Science department of an 8000+ acre non-profit preserve. Conservation research informs our land management planning, recreational access, and environmental education programming. We conduct mainly observational natural history research and maintain numerous long-term datasets pertaining to the ecology of the Shawangunk Ridge in New York State. My job involves administrative duties as well as basic research, land management decision-making, and collaboration with local partners. My typical workday involves a combination of desk time and field time, and my hours are much more regular and predictable than when I worked in academia. I do work some weekends and holidays but those are usually planned in advance and I can use flextime to compensate for it. Most of my work is on preserve lands but I do have opportunity to travel to regional and national meetings and conferences.
What were your graduate studies in? What aspects of your graduate training do you feel have made you more successful in your position? I studied ecology/evolution/genetics for my PhD program, and conservation biology for my MS. The scientific skills that I learned are of course the cornerstone of my work, but there are plenty of other skills that weren't part of my coursework or dissertation training that was invaluable. Some of the skills that I learned in grad school that are most important in my current position: working with and supervising interns, volunteers, and citizen scientists; collaborating with partner groups including NPS, USFWS, etc.; learning how to stay current in the field in creative ways (social media!); understanding how to apply a wide variety of analyses to different datasets or how to find people who can help with that; computer skills including coding in Perl, Python, R, or even just Regular Expressions; translating science to a broad community.
What was your career path after leaving graduate school? I had a joint postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. While this experience wasn't required for my field, some of the skills I learned during this time definitely made me a more competitive candidate for my current job. This is particularly true of my time at the NHMLA, where I spent a lot of time working with citizen scientists and collaborating with very diverse groups. I also worked as an assistant professor at a small, teaching-oriented college for two years. Originally this was the career path I intended to pursue as a long-term/permanent job, but now I feel very confident that my current job is a much better fit.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job? What are your favorite aspects of your job? The most challenging aspect is probably also my favorite aspect- I have a lot of different responsibilities and it can be tough to manage my time accordingly. For the same reason, though, I feel confident that I will not ever get bored by what I do and I suspect I will always find the job interesting. I also believe strongly in the mission of my organization- I feel good about what we do. In terms of the scope of the science, I'm lucky that I have some say in the direction of the research that our department carries out, which is not always true for folks working in agency and NGO conservation jobs.
Do you have any other useful advice for graduate students interested in your field that hasn't been covered yet? There's no denying that this is a very competitive field and that jobs like mine are pretty scarce. I feel incredibly lucky to have this job, and it isn't something I explicitly planned for or expected.
In terms of salaries, non-profits are usually stretched pretty thin. Unlike in academic jobs, I don't have the option of getting summer salary through grant funding, either. However, there are a lot of other benefits to the job that certainly outweigh any financial downsides. Chief among those benefits is the fact that I have a much easier time leaving work behind at the end of the day than I did in academia. There is much less pressure to always be working, and less implicit guilt over taking off on holidays, weekends, or taking vacation.
My position requires a lot of interaction with visitors and donors, so any experience that might bolster those skills would be a bonus. I was lucky to do this as a postdoc, but I also led a lot of tours and nature walks throughout my academic career. Those things all helped make me a more competitive candidate for my current job even though they didn't get me a lot of credit in the academic realm.