Is it Possible to Volunteer as a Science Conservationist or Ecologist?

This is a question I would love to know the answer to. I suspect the answer is yes, as you can volunteer and do pretty much anything, from marine conservation, to caring for elephants, to teaching English or working in an orphanage. Volunteering is not something I’ve done much of, but traveling has opened my eyes more to the problems the world faces, and it’s something I would love to do more of. I’ve always liked the idea of doing conservation work, but it wasn’t until I reached New Zealand that I’ve actually volunteered on a couple of conservation events. They’re great fun, I enjoyed doing the work, meeting people, and generally found the whole thing very satisfying, however, I feel that my skills could be better placed.

Beach combing for litter

Beach combing for litter

I’m a Biochemistry graduate, and I’ve worked in Cell Biology for 5 years before traveling, and I now work doing a similar thing. I would love to use my science background to help a conservation or ecology project, but I don’t quiet know where to get started. The problem is, searches for volunteering are predominantly volunteerism, which is firstly too expensive for me, like most long term travellers. I don’t mind paying to volunteer to cover the cost of my food and board, and a donation to the work I’m doing, but I can’t afford a few hundred $’s for a week. Sure, there are lots of Grassroots Volunteering programs, and I’ve also looked into these, but there is very little available for lab skills, the closest I’ve found is volunteering in a medical centre, but as I have no medical training I don’t know if my background is suitable for many of these volunteering options, and they are few and far between.

I also lack Environmental Science experience or qualifications. I don’t know all the ins and outs of a science project, but neither do any experienced qualified scientists unless it’s an area they have worked in extensively. It’s the nature of science.

Volunteer Tree Planting

Volunteer Tree Planting

I do however, know how to work in a lab, carry out tests, and learn quickly. I’m quite happy to carry out monotonous tasks, but I would love to put my skills to good use during my travels, especially as there aren’t that many scientists around, and perhaps fewer who are travellers. I would really love to do some science volunteering, and I’m open to volunteering on a conservation project or an ecological volunteering opportunity. It would be brilliant if I can make my lab skills useful. If you have done anything like this, or anything similar/ know someone who has, please let me know and give me a starting point. In the meantime, I’ll keep searching and see what interesting and unusual volunteering opportunities are available.

11 thoughts on “Is it Possible to Volunteer as a Science Conservationist or Ecologist?

  1. I’ve looked in volunteering in my field (dental or oral hygienist) and its always very expensive and when I have applied for them I always get the response that they are ‘full’! It’s frustrating when you get denied for trying to help. And it’s not exactly something that I’d feel comfortable bringing I my own equipment and doing in another country due to laws and where I am/ am not allowed to practice.

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    • Hey, that’s annoying! I guess the opportunities are few and far between, so they fill up quickly, and it’s definitely better to be careful and not take your own equipment somewhere. It’s hard to try and use your higher level skills to try and volunteer. Pretty much anyone can help dig a well, or work in an animal sanctuary, but not many people have other skills, like a dental hygienist or biochemist. It’s a shame that there isn’t more opportunities!

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  2. Hmm, I don’t know if you would qualify as you are no longer a student, but the Student Conservation Association (www.thesca.org) has individual and group conservation internships. It’s mostly in the USA and its territories, but it’s a great organization and worth looking into. Not to mention, even if you don’t qualify, they partner with a bunch of organizations to do what they do, so they may have some resources for you. I did trail crews with them 3 times (I’m not in a conservation field) and worked at their headquarters as well. Definitely worth looking into.
    Good luck!

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    • Yeah, my student days are a few years behind me… But I’ll have a look into it. It’s just good to have somewhere to start, and generally the few things I find are aimed at students, but it’s still worth me looking into them and seeing a bit more what’s out there. I would love to put my skills to good use, but I’m also interested because I’m not really sure what I want to do after traveling, and I’m wondering if this could be it. I certainly want to be more involved with conservation work, I really enjoy it and I think it’s important for the future. Thanks for your help, it’s much appreciated 🙂

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      • No problem! I am definitely trying to find what work I can enjoy going forward as well, and I’m pretty sure being an administrative assistant forever is not it! I’m close to completing my TEFL, and I am thinking pairing that with being a horse trekking guide in the breaks could really make me happy, I just have to figure out the how of it all. Conservation work is great from what I’ve experienced, though I’ve only really been on the trail building and restoration end of it. The hardest part certainly seems to be finding and making those connections with potential employers/partners. Good luck to you!

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      • That sounds really exciting! Having a TEFL will make it easy to travel and work, I’ve met a few people who have been horse trekking guides and really enjoyed it.
        It definitely seems that having contacts makes a big difference when it comes to conservation, so I’ll see what’s around and try and do some networking and volunteering! Thanks, and good luck to you too

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