Since my decision to switch to studying wildlife, I have spent a considerable portion of my time thrashing about in the dark, stumbling over social and educational boulders and often falling flat on my face. Starting out, my first thought was, "I hate biology but want to study wildlife". Fresh out of school, my perception of biology was as a claustrophobic science that deals with 'human anatomy and diet'. A curt "You can't do anything without biology" from a respected teacher deflated all hope and led me to believe I could do nothing without a zoology/botany degree in hand. How mistaken I was! Practitioners of interdisciplinary science are the need of the hour in conservation biology today. From engineers who design wildlife drones and discourage poachers, geographers who map global distribution of threatened species, mathematicians and computer programmers who devise novel statistical methods, social scientists who aim to understand cultural attitudes towards wildlife, architects and urban planners who build sustainable housing to journalists who uncover conservation stories from the hinterlands, lawyers fighting to uphold environmental laws and economists who integrate ecological stability in their models- everyone is welcome to attempt wildlife conservation. True, you need an excellent understanding of species ecology and much of it requires long hours of arduous fieldwork. But formal education is never be a barrier to becoming a conservationist. Here are some lessons I learnt that may help you in your struggle.
The Rainbow Process: 7 rules for an Amateur Naturalist in India
Step One: Join the meetyeti email-list to get regular updates on educational, job and volunteer opportunities in India. This is also a fantastic way to know what skills you need to cultivate to gain a foothold in the diverse, interdisciplinary field of conservation.
Step Four: Communicate with experts. Don't hesitate to communicate your desire to work together on a particular subject. Take care to be specific- What are your interests (broad and narrow), why would you like to work on, what skills do you possess that maybe useful in their ongoing projects etc.
Step Five: Keep a Journal. Be meticulous in your record-keeping. The journal needn't be an old-school diary- be creative, take your experiences online through blogs and youtube channels. Employ the use of photography, videos, sketches, origami, humor or whatever tool you have at hand. This ensures an early start to a vital aspect of wildlife conservation- Science Outreach.
Step Six: Network. Make friends. Jolt yourself out of your comfort zone. You will learn precious little hunched in a corner while your fellow volunteers boisterously share wildlife stories over dinner. Gather your guts and join in, even if it is your first time. At the very least, establish a one-on-one rapport with other participants. Conferences such as the Student Conference on Conservation Science or YETI are another great way to meet with a diverse range of professionals. Step up to the great 'Networking Challenge'.
Step Seven: Be prepared for failure. You will fail. It's how Nature works. Embrace failure and make new mistakes the next time.
Some of the wildlife programs offered in India currently are:
PhD program, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore
PhD program, Center for Ecological Studies, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
A vast number of opportunities are available for students who wish to pursue their education abroad. Universities abroad usually require undergraduate study of 4 years prior to admission. Masters programs in U.S. universities are for a minimum of 2 years whereas U.K. offers programs of 1 year. There are simply too many study-abroad options to list out here, but do check out Anusha Shankar's poston applying to grad schools.
A few sources for seed funding of independent research ideas: