Today’s L-C-Ideas blog post comes to us from Clare Aslan and Chris Parish who are members of the inaugural class of the Wilburforce Foundation’s prestigious Fellowship in Conservation Science. Clare is an Assistant Professor at NAU and Scientist for Conservation Science Partners. Chris is the Condor Field Project Supervisor for the Peregrine Fund and a PhD student in NAU’s Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability Doctoral program. We’re privileged to count them among our LCI ranks.
The Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science: Building Skills and Potential
– by Clare Aslan and Chris Parish
In late April, we left snowy Arizona for sunny Seattle—a bit of weather irony that added a sense of adventure. Within a few hours, we were sitting in a meeting room on the Greenfire Campus, two of 20 members of the inaugural cohort of Wilburforce Conservation Science Fellows. The Fellows had gathered from across western North America, motivated by a shared vision of science-driven conservation impact, commitment to innovation and leadership, and a desire to learn new tools and take on new challenges.
As scientists, our traditional training tends to be highly technical and fairly rigid. We learn research design principles, statistical practices, scientific writing and reading techniques, and literature review skills. This technical training is essential to keep our science robust and our conclusions informed by solid data.
However, as scientists committed to what we casually call conservation, these technical skills often take us but half way to home plate. To translate our science to solutions, we need to be able to deliver key findings to conservation practitioners, managers, and the public in a clear and concise manner, making sure that everyone knows where we are, where we are going and how we are going to get there. By adding communication and leadership tools to our technical skills, we should better be able to navigate the continuum of conservation. The Wilburforce Fellowship was specifically designed to bridge this gap.
As a cohort, we came to Seattle from sites as distant as Tucson, AZ and Tulita, Northwest Territories…a range spanning more than 2300 miles. Affiliations within the cohort varied from academia to nonprofit conservation organizations, and Fellows ranged in career stage from graduate students to established professors. Together, we spent a week learning leadership tools and communication skills and building among ourselves a network of friendship and support. The pace was intense, with skills practice beginning at breakfast each day and extending through and beyond dinnertime. A particularly challenging portion of the week was spent with journalists who generously sacrificed their vacation days to work with us, drilling us in message development and delivery. Throughout this time, the diversity within the cohort itself was invaluable, enabling us to learn from one another and to expand our appreciation of the conservation challenges—and champions!—working across the West.
The week of networking, problem-solving, and rehearsing culminated in a final evening of story-telling, when Fellows stood one by one to tell their conservation stories. We listened to powerful tales of wildlife encounters, remote adventures, and inspirational heroes. We laughed (and cried) and found new voices with which to share our passion for biodiversity along with our technical knowledge.
Prior to the training, we were each asked to identify challenging professional goals. We are now charged, over the next year, with making tangible progress toward those goals. We will use the new tools and perspectives and voices offered by the training. And most importantly, we will connect with one another regularly, to offer support and brainstorming and accountability. In the midst of the regular demands and hectic schedules we all juggle, the Wilburforce Fellowship is a commitment to being a part of a broader conservation community and to helping one another maintain the energy and vision of our shared training experience.