Karen Swartz - Classes for Grad school

Ellen I. Paul toodles at wam.umd.edu
Sun Mar 19 07:21:17 EST 1995


In article <3kct38$kv5 at dawn.mmm.com>,  <Karen Swartz   kswartz at mmm.com> wrote:
>Thanks everybody for all of the input! 
>
>I really appreciate it.
>
>I have another question (this from Ellen Paul's comments).
>
>Based on my current background, it looks as if conservation
>biology would be the easiest fit for me, but I am really interested
>in becoming a biologist.  For the sake of information, however, I 
>must ask; what type of work is generally available for conservation
>biologists? And if one acquires a masters in the field and decides
>to shoot for a PhD program in a "true" biology discipline, how 
>difficult is the transition?
>
>Karen (kswartz at mmm.com)
>
Hi, Karen - I can tell you that I work with a population geneticist, a 
population biologist, and a behavioralist, and they all call themselves 
conservation biologists because they are working in conservation as 
opposed to research.  Most of the "conservation biologists" out there - 
including Gilpin, Soule, Raven, etc. - are all biologists interested in 
conservation.  The discipline known as conservation biology has only been 
around for perhaps a bit more than a decade, when Gilpin and Soule 
suggested that biologists (and scientists in general) needed to be able 
to communicate with policy - makers and in order to do that, we needed 
people who understood not only the basic science, but also the economics 
and the policy.  That spawned the various programs such as mine.

So, what do people with this degree do?  MOST work in various capacities 
in conservation organizations.  My classmates are at The Nature 
Conservancy (in several different sections), the Maryland Department of 
Natural Resources Critical Areas Commission, the IUCN Species Survival 
Commission, Columbia's new program - Center for the Environmental 
Research and Conservation - the Missouri Department of Natural 
Resources...etc.  Some have gone on for PhD's - two in natural resource 
economics, one in tropical ecology (although his background was in 
biology).  In essence, they end up as policy-makers with a better 
background in ecology and biology than most.  Some are also 
"infiltrating" the big bad World Bank, USAID, or heading into the 
InterAmerican Development Bank, GEF, African Wildlife Federation, etc.  

Now, to my mind, these are all incredibly exciting things to do and I'd 
love to do any one (or all) of them.  And if I don't get into a PhD 
program, that's what I will be doing, and it isn't exactly going to be a 
disappointment!  However, I have decided that I simply love the science 
more than anything I've ever done in life, and that I don't want to work 
for the wonderful people I work for at AZA and APC, I want to BE those 
people.  I want to be out on Rota, releasing Guam rails.  I want to be in 
St. Lucia or St. Vincent, working with the wild populations of those Amazons.

And for that, I need a Ph.D.  And to answer your question with info you 
don't want to hear, the transition is only slightly easier because I have 
already made the connections (our program is housed within the Zoology 
dept. and is loosely affiliated with it) and because I have taken several 
ecology classes as part of the CONS program (don't ask how you can do 
this without lower level biology classes - it can be done, but it isn't 
done well).  Otherwise, it's just as though I had decided two years ago 
to work directly for the Ph.D. admissions - I spoke to a couple of the 
profs in the zoology dept and they said "you need to take all the courses 
leading to the undergrad major."  So now I'm taking freshman biology (I 
love it, even if it isn't new to me - it's nice to finally fill in those 
gaps - such as taxonomy and systematics - all I knew was birds - which I 
taught myself - and having one easy course isn't exactly a bad thing!).  
And as I think I pointed out before, it isn't so much what is required to 
get in, it's what's required to pass prelims - they will admit me if I am 
lacking a few courses, but I have to take and pass prelims within two 
years of admission, so not having the basics means I'd wash out after two 
years anyway.  Now THAT is a scary thought.  (Come to think of it, 
everything I hear about the Ph.D. program is scary - let's see - I could 
get my master's in December and go live my life OR I can spend the next 
two years taking undergrad classes in the HOPE that I'll get into the 
program and then another two years in the HOPE that I'll pass prelims, 
and none of this will happen if I can't find an advisor....Karen - are 
you sure you know what you are getting into?  Please, talk to some people 
in the Ph.D. program before you go blithely down this path....it does 
require a certain amount of denial of reality).

Ellen Paul



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