Women in Science: conservation technology

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Meet some of ZSL's female researchers and conservationists to discover more about their roles and what advice they would give anyone interested in pursuing a career in conservation science.

Kate Moses and Rachael Kemp both work within ZSL’s Conservation Technology team.

Photo - Conservationist Kate Moses standing on a beach wrapped up in a thick coat and woolly hat.
Kate on a cold beach!

What do you both do at ZSL?

Kate: I work across two of our conservation technology projects and spend most of my time project managing Instant Wild, a Citizen Science app & platform that was developed by ZSL. The app connects Conservationists who are using camera trap images to answer a research question and need help analysing the images with Citizen Scientists who want to contribute & get an insight into the natural world. 

Day to day my job involves setting up new projects on the platform, managing multiple stakeholders and budgets, managing development partners to ensure that the app & database run as they should, writing the social media content for the app and understanding how we can improve the functionality. I also work on the development of Instant Detect, our satellite enabled threat detection and wildlife monitoring system.   

Rachael: I manage the development of low-cost technologies for use in conservation. Specifically, I manage the development and deployment of GPS (global positioning system) and video tracking technologies to monitor wildlife populations around the world. This technology provides important data on the ecology and behaviour of species (where they go, what they do), which may be impossible to gather in any other way, especially as the habitats where these species live are often extremely remote. 

The data can be used to inform conservation efforts such as the designation of protected areas. Our solutions are lower cost than commercial technology, opening up access to more people and allowing studies to be done at scale.

I gather field requirements to feed into the design process, manage engineering partners, undertake tests and deployments, train field partners and gather and analyse data on species and habitats. Around that I fundraise for the project, manage budgets, and communicate about our work internally and externally to raise awareness.

Photo - Rachael sat on a sandy beach next to a green sea turtle with with a tag attached to the top of its shell.
Rachael and a Green Sea Turtle, with a tag on its shell

Why did you choose to pursue a career in conservation science?

Kate: I’ve always been interested in the natural world and knew that being a vet wouldn’t suit me as I’d get too attached to the animals! I wanted a career that would allow me to contribute to making the planet a better place, even if only in a tiny way, and that would allow me to work internationally. 

Rachael: I have loved the natural world since I was little, always spending lots of time outside growing up. I especially loved animals as a kid and, after also deciding I couldn’t be a vet (because I was too squeamish and might spend most of my time fainting!), I started to pursue a career in conservation. 

Today I’m actually a lot less squeamish! But I love the international focus of my job and knowing that the work I do can make a difference to preserving the nature that we all rely on. I think we can learn so much from nature and we’re intrinsically and emotionally linked to it - I think this more and more every day.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Kate: I love having camera trap images come straight through to my inbox from our projects, knowing that I’m getting an insight into what the animals are getting up to at that moment in time, in a hidden corner of the world somewhere. The opportunities to travel and work with a threatened species in their habitat leads to some very special moments that make you really realise how lucky you are to work in conservation! 

I also really enjoy engaging with the public about Instant Wild - it’s fantastic to see young children getting involved, guessing the species in the images & engaging with the natural world. At a time when we’re seeing an ever increasing disconnect between people and nature, I think it’s so important to encourage connections and Instant Wild helps to bridge this gap. 

Rachael: Sitting on a beach under the stars next to a female green sea turtle waiting to see if she will nest and we can tag her. They are the biggest faffers I’ve ever known, spending hours on a beach trying out different places to nest, digging and laying their nest and covering and protecting it. Turtles are NOT made for land so the whole process looks exhausting! But following them around, totally on their timetable is incredible. I love sitting there thinking about how old they are, how far they’ve travelled, how long their species has survived on the planet and how humans threaten all that. It’s both incredible and sobering at the same time.

Another great thing is connecting with amazing, passionate people at ZSL and all over the world who stay optimistic and work against all odds to protect the planet they love. 

Photo - Rachael and Kate, with other ZSL staff, by their stand at the Festival of Nature in Bristol.
Rachael and Kate, with others from the conservation tech team, at the Festival of Nature in Bristol

What advice would you give anyone wanting to work in conservation science?

Kate: Don’t be disheartened - conservation is hard to get into but it’s worth persevering! As well as doing a Masters degree (MSc) to gain relevant knowledge, I volunteered on practical conservation projects, and went to events and conferences whenever possible. Whilst studying for my MSc and applying for conservation roles, I ensured that I progressed within my (non-conservation) career, building up transferable skills including roles in IT and commercial teams.

Rachael: It can be really hard to get into and you will get many knock backs (unless you’re really lucky or know someone!) For every job there can be 150 applicants - if you don’t get it, it’s not necessarily about you, it’s the competition! Stay open minded, be willing to turn your hand to lots of things, and keep persisting. 

I worked in schools for a number of years before I got into conservation, volunteering on the side and applying lots! And I know lots of other people who worked in other things first too. I did find that my Masters course (which I did 4 years after undergrad graduation) opened up opportunities and sadly I think further qualifications are increasingly expected in conservation - but they’re very expensive so get saving and/or applying for sponsorship and funding.


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