From nature fascination to a career in social science

Sep 12, 2022 | General

Photo of a young child turning over a stone in a rock pool with the sea behind and rocks surrounding.

So how did I get from being someone who spent their childhood fascinated by nature to being a social scientist and wanting to understand people? 

My lifelong passion for nature, particularly my enthusiasm to explore rockpools, took me to university to study marine ecology.  I loved it.  In fact, I was bowled over by what I was learning – exploring ecosystems from the coast to the deep sea. 

But alongside learning about the ecology of these ecosystems, I learnt about what threatened them.  The human driven pressures, the degradation, and the forecasts of future losses.

There was a strong thread of people through the stories of ecosystem threats.  People as drivers of actions which could damage or protect ecosystems.  People as part of the ecosystem, shaping and being shaped by it. 

It became clear to me that whilst ecology was vital to responding to these challenges, successful solutions to these threats would need more than just ecological evidence.  That we’d need to better understand people too.

And it was my desire to better understand the evidence around people that brought me to social science. 

Evidence that would explore why damaging behaviours occurred, what healthy or unhealthy ecosystems meant for the human communities as well as the ecological communities, and how change could be catalysed to enable protection and restoration.

After my marine ecology degree, I broadened my study subjects to include conservation social science subjects in my masters.  I then went onto an interdisciplinary natural and social science PhD.

I worked as a post-doc researcher on a marine governance project.  I then became the first conservation social scientist in a team of around a hundred natural scientists at a large conservation NGO. 

During all that time, I met others who had had similar realisations about the need for people evidence as well as ecological evidence.  People whose passion for nature brought them into conservation, and their determination to find effective solutions have led them to social science.   

In 2020 I launched Human Nature to help conservation professionals better understand social science and gain the confidence to use it in their work. 

I love working every day with people who are exploring how social science can help them to understand the individuals and communities integral their conservation projects.

Do my experiences resonate with you?  Perhaps you’re just starting out exploring how social science can support the conservation work you do.  If so, let me know what is motivating you to better understand people.  I love to hear other people’s stories!

Photo by Lisa5201 from Getty Images Signature.

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