Written by Gemma Bruno
I’m sure like many other aspiring conservationists, we were weird kids. I was particularly weird and extremely creative. I would spend hours making things for animals like houses, dungeons, mazes, fairy gardens, and occasionally the odd outfit for my cats. Although as a kid I probably traumatised them, I always knew I wanted a connection to animals and to work with them one day. However, throughout school, I had quite prevalent learning difficulties. They would continually affect my mindset on being good enough for a biological career so I could work with wildlife. So my route into conservation was a strange one, I took a BTEC in Animal Management as I was scared of exams, more specifically with maths. At the time the only job I had in mind was becoming a vet or marine biologist which didn’t work for me as I came to realise they were both maths heavy.
I knew I wanted to work with animals and do something in line with conservation but I had 0 confidence that would be possible without getting over my fears and being able to do the classic recall and splurge of information within that steamy 2-hour period of writing. Throughout university life I started noticing how my mind worked slightly differently from others, I still had this huge creative side that just didn’t feel properly fuelled by my degree (Biological Sciences). But I also had this crazy passion for wildlife and understanding it in detail. I found myself often thinking how could I link science and art together? Can this even be done? It stumped me as they seemed like opposites. One relies on facts, proven information and calculation, while the other is almost entirely subjective and fluid.
At university, I found myself getting lower grades in statistics and all number heavy topics. I started to have an increasing thought I wasn’t going to be good enough to be a conservationist. So after a long-time of course struggles. I finally took a dyscalculia test in my third year. This opened up a number of options for me allowing me to actually pass exams and coursework I otherwise would have failed. It was like someone had finally recognised I wasn’t actually bad at maths, but I had this difficulty not letting me see maths the same way others did.
I got a first in my dissertation and thought, right, what next? Even though I managed to do really well, I knew that I needed to be mindful when looking at wildlife roles. As I knew the data side was never going to suit me. So my next option was field-based volunteering as I knew I could identify species, count population numbers and help with set-ups like camera trapping. But then Covid got in the way, so I was feeling pretty stuck.
During my final university year, I was quite anxiously looking for work and could not find anything I actually wanted to do. It was a mixture of anxiety, running into learning difficulties again, and feeling not quite right for the roles I was applying for. Eventually, my sister offered me a role at her social media manager business. I started creating Instagram posts using a creative software for accounts to promote their messages. I would make eye-catching posts promoting female empowerment and digital education for young girls getting into STEM. To me, this was completely off-track on my road to conservation. I thought nothing of it really, it was just a way for me to keep some pocket money while looking for a ‘real job’.
But after a while, I got better and better at designing posts and realised it was actually fuelling the creative drive I had been missing. The problem was I felt I was still not even scratching the surface of the wildlife conservation-based roles like I had planned. Eventually, I thought alright surely there is a HUGE conservation community online and I could link these together somehow, even if I’m not doing practical conservation. I started finding charities and organisations to connect with. I then thought what if I just made my own account to become my own social media assistant, but just to spread conservation awareness instead? And out came an idea for a science-based instagram account where I could utilise both creative and scientific writing skills (without the maths!!!).
At the moment, I feel like social media is my only tether into the conservation community. But I’m still hoping to build my practical wildlife experience through volunteering and even learn a thing or two about data along the way. But for now, I want to make the account a space of free educational resources for anyone interested in eco-tips, wildlife conservation, volunteering and how to really get a foot in the door in conservation (the unconventional way) for the weird kids like myself. I hope this post gives anybody who is reading it a boost of confidence that there are truly unlimited ways for you to find the right path for yourself, even when faced with learning difficulties and mental health issues. And you’ll find your thing, even if it really is in the most unexpected of ways.
For more of Gemma check out @germologist and @extra_earthy on Instagram