Story by Moira Wilputte
For as long as I can remember, I have been passionate about animals and the environment. I grew up in a city but had the chance to have grandparents who taught me to love and respect nature. As a teenager, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but it was always related to animals or nature. One day I wanted to be a gardener, the next day I wanted to become a vet. It was only during the last two years in high school that I discovered my passion for biology thanks to a wonderful teacher.
From then, as I have always loved animals and the environment, it was as if everything was traced: I started a bachelor in biology (in Belgium we do a bit of everything during our bachelors, no specialization) and already knew I wanted to do a master’s in the biology of organisms and ecology at my university, although my dad, who I love very much, doubted my choices. He was telling me there was no work in the field I chose and that I should do something else… (At least, I was warned…)
After my bachelors, I hesitated while doing my master’s in molecular biology because I thought it was fun and I wanted to stay with my friends and I pleased my dad. But I knew deep inside that it wasn’t what I really wanted to do.
During my master’s, I had the chance to travel (another of my passions) twice. The first time was for an Erasmus (an exchange program for European students) in Sweden. There I specifically studied conservation biology and ethology and fell in love with them! I have always wanted to protect the environment and animals, I have always been so mad to see what some people do to them, but there are several ways to help! And now I knew how I wanted to do it: I wanted to work in conservation!
The second time was for one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Y’all understand that I love animals. But amongst them, there is one order I am very passionate about: primates (I am passionate about cats too but they don’t really need conservation). I’ve been passionate about them since I discovered Jane Goodall, my idol. So for my Master’s thesis, I decided that I wanted to work on primates, like Jane Goodall and more precisely on their conservation. From then, it has been a constant fight to work in that field. One of my teachers agreed to supervise me, but as she was not a primatologist, I had to find a project and someone to supervise me in the country in which I was going to lead my project. I had to send lots and lots of emails to find someone with a project that was willing to give me a chance.
I finally found someone in Thailand who was supervising a PhD student who was leading a project on macaques and that was approved by my Belgian supervisor (I found other people willing to supervise me but they were doing research in countries that were apparently too dangerous…). The PhD student was going in the field at the same time I was planning to so everything was perfect. I conducted my research during four months in Thailand and it was amazing! I loved discovering the species living there, taking pictures of them, following the macaques… I’m not saying it was always easy, on the contrary, some days were really rough. As a lot of you know, field work is not always easy: you don’t get to sleep enough, you spend all day and part of the night in the field collecting data… Thankfully, my boyfriend (whom I met only two months before leaving) was always supporting and encouraging me. Even though it was hard, I loved it and keep a very good souvenir of this trip.
My boyfriend was also there when I had to analyse the data I collected and write my thesis. I talked about how hard field work was but for me, this was the hardest part! There is a lot of competition in science and you are always pushed to do better. Everything I did was never good enough. I cried a lot, doubted a lot, thought I wasn’t good enough to work in that field….
Anyway, a few months later, after a lot of work, I submitted my thesis and was graduated in the biology of organisms and ecology. As I didn’t want to work yet, I decided to do another master’s in environmental management and territory development. It was very interesting and I learned a lot in fields I have never studied before like environmental related politics and economics… This time, the master’s lasted only a year, I did a thesis based only on literacy. Again it was a really bad experience for me: a lot of stress, no consideration from others, people never happy with my work….
This is why I decided to not do a PhD, which would have been the easy way for me to work with primates four more years. Because even though I did another master’s in something different, I still wanted to work with primates. But I really didn’t want to go through what I’d been through during my master’s for four more years.
So I started thinking about trying to find a job in environmental protection, conservation or anything environmentally related. I thought that with two master’s it wouldn’t take too long for me to find a job. I applied for a lot of positions. Some of them weren’t even related to environment protection or conservation. But for every position I got the same excuses: your profile is really interesting and you have real qualities but (1) we found someone else who we think is better adapted for the position (2) we don’t have a position for you at the moment. I started looking in July 2018 and here we are, February 2019 and still no job. Someone I know sometimes tells me: “Well you have chosen the lazy studies with no chance of finding a real job later”. My dad is telling me to get any job even if it is something I don’t really want to do and that goes against all my convictions. I’m not sure they know it pains me and makes me feel bad…
In the meantime, I have written the first draft of my article about the macaques I have studied in Thailand and I hope it will be published one day without bringing me all the stress both my theses did. Moreover, as I can’t stay inactive for too long, I’ve found a paid internship in a Belgian NGO and for the next six months. I’m going to get paid to do conservation in my own country! I’m going to work with amphibians. It is not my first love but every endangered animal deserves to be protected. I will get to do field work (and also a lot of paper work) in my own country! I thought this would never happen so I’m really happy to get that chance! I won’t have a full salary but it is a start and I hope they will hire me after. Only the future will tell!
A fellow Lonely Conservationist,
For more of Moira, follow @moirawilputte on Instagram