by Fiona Dobson
Course: Conservation Biology MSc
University; University of Kent
Course length: 1 year (if full time, 2 years if part time)
Location: UK, England
This course is special in that it is delivered by members of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), Britain’s leading research centre dedicated to the conservation of biodiversity and the ecological processes that support ecosystems and people. Students leave the course equipped with an excellent knowledge base, and practical experience relating to a wide range of issues relating to biodiversity, conservation and management.
The first half of the course (six months if a student is full-time) is filled with formal lectures and seminars supported by residential courses and day trips, learning from which is assessed through coursework. There are 4 compulsory modules, including ‘Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Conservation’, ‘Population and Evolutionary Biology’ and ‘Research Skills’ for both natural and social sciences.
Alongside these, students choose four further modules from a variety of options, which allows them to delve further into their interests, such as ‘Leadership Skills for Conservation Managers’, ‘Principles of Geographic Information Services (GIS) and Remote Sensing’, and ‘Managing Protected Areas’.
There are multiple pathways on offer for this programme, of which Conservation Biology is one, and others include pathways such as Conservation and International Wildlife Trade, and Conservation Project Management. There is flexibility in switching between pathways near the start of the programme, with the compulsory modules differing slightly between programmes.
The second half of the course involves an individual research project to produce a final dissertation, which is written up in the format of a paper for publication. For this project, students are assigned to a supervisor with whom they work closely on project development and delivery. This is an excellent chance to learn the intricacies of research from one of DICE’s deeply experienced academics. My dissertation has excitingly just been accepted for publication in the conservation journal, Oryx!
- What did you like most about the course?
I really valued the fact that the students on the course are from such varied and diverse backgrounds; some come with years of experience in conservation and are looking to specialise or hone their skills, others are fresh from undergraduate courses and are looking to gain the skills to start a career in conservation, and others are looking to switch careers. I learnt so much from my classmates and we formed a close intellectual and social community.
- What did you do before this course?
Before starting this course, I had just graduated from an Undergraduate course in Geography at the University of Cambridge. As a geographer I really enjoyed the mix of social and natural sciences that this course has to offer.
- Are there any specific requirements for being able to apply to and take this course?
The entry requirements for this course include at least a good second class honours degree in a relevant subject, or a good honours degree in other subjects alongside relevant practical experience. There are exceptional circumstances where applicants are accepted without a first degree if they’ve shown a high enough standard of academic achievement in their professional career.
- What sort of work are you doing (e.g. more group work/more individual work; more project-based work/more essay writing etc.)?
The majority of assessment of the course is based on written projects, namely coursework essays and the dissertation, but work also includes presentations, map work, and examinations for some modules. Most work is carried out individually, but some modules include large group work components.
- Is there anything you would change about the course?
There is very little I’d change given I so enjoyed this course, but having more contact hours in the second half of the course would have helped me to structure my time and keep up motivation during the dissertation research collection and writing up periods.
- Why did you choose this course over other courses you may have been considering?
I liked the location, the mix of modules on offer, and the fact that the majority of work is coursework and project based as opposed to examinations. I was also attracted by DICE’s excellent reputation and recommendations from academics at Cambridge.
- What is life at this university like?
The University of Kent is a campus-based university, which means all the facilities students need are available on site, making it very convenient and creating a strong sociable atmosphere, with lots of green space to relax in. Good quality postgraduate accommodation is available on site. The campus is very close to the beautiful and historic town of Canterbury, only a short bus ride or a 20 to 25 minute walk. It’s also easy to get by bus out to the coast!
- What are you planning on doing after you’ve graduated/what are you currently doing if you have graduated?
I have graduated from my course and am now working in policy and advocacy at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
- What are typical jobs graduates do after completing the course?
DICE has a great track record for postgraduate employment and academic continuation. Given that this course provides both strong subject-specific skills as well as transferable skills, graduates go onto a range of jobs, across government, NGOs and the private sector. Alumni are also based all over the world. Some examples include: Wildlife Management Officer in Kenya, Chief of the Biodiversity Unit at the UN Environment Programme, and Community Based Natural Resource Manager at WWF.
Fiona is now working in Cambridge, UK, for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). She works in the Global Policy Team, and her work spans international biodiversity and climate policy, to raise global ambition for strong multilateral environmental agreements, especially the CBD (UN Convention on Biological Diversity) and UNFCCC (the UN Climate Convention). She grew up in Bermuda and is an avid birdwatcher, and enjoys spending as much time in nature as possible!