Our mentoring interview this week is with Dr Rob Lambert…
Why did you decide to become a mentor for AFON?
I suppose I should declare that over 2011-2012, Lucy McRobert, myself and Stephen Moss (with the founding support of Opticron, and later other corporates) created the whole idea of AFON as a way to professionally network and help young people into fulfilling conservation careers. From the outset, inter-generational mentoring was at the heart of our vision for AFON. We recognised that many established well-known wildlife and conservation figures (let’s say, loosely over 30 years old) had an enormous repository of insights and experiences that they could share with younger people setting out on career journeys. Stephen Moss and I knew many of them as friends, so as well as signing up ourselves as the first AFON mentors, we cajoled and urged our network of pals to recognise how valuable (and life-changing) their involvement could be. It was, to be honest, an easy sell. The AFON Mentors list grew and grew, as did the wider organisation under Lucy’s leadership. We three remain hugely proud of what AFON has become, with the mentoring scheme very much at the heart of that success. It has been exhilarating to sit back and watch mentoring relationships flourish over time, and AFON mentees find employment in the conservation world. It has also been heart-warming to see how the established eNGOS have come to recognise the value of AFON as an organisation, and the relevance within of the mentoring scheme to their eternal search for future employees. I have always felt that having AFON on your CV does open doors.
How have you helped/could you help potential mentees?
I have a diverse range of job roles: academic, broadcaster, expedition ship lecturer, writer etc. In that sense I reflect diversity and how I have sought to defy compartmentalisation for much of my career. I would hope to be able to offer keen insights to those AFON members wanting to pursue traditional academic careers (environmental research & teaching) within the university sector; plus those who want that as just a part of their portfolio, and want to also engage in outreach and impact work beyond academia in places like media, policy making, expedition cruising, publications, journalism etc. I have edited the international academic journal Environment and History for 17 years (gulp!) and so can certainly offer tips on writing and publication and the misery of having your work edited externally. I supervise around 12 Environment Dissertations a year at the University of Nottingham, so can happily help with titles, project areas, networks, editing etc. Best of all, I think I am very well networked and connected into this wonderful British wildlife constituency that we all cherish, so I can usually facilitate introductions and set AFON members off on their journeys of discovery.
What’s your top piece of advice for a young person starting out their career in nature conservation?
Be open-minded, creative, able to seize all opportunities. Be prepared to diversify. Recognise that you will be starting at the bottom, so prove yourself invaluable and hard-working and insightful as a team player in an organisation. Then you can create opportunities for yourself within the system. You may well have to do two or three short-term contracts before a full-time contract is handed to you. That is fine. Take as much experience and training as you can from those short-terms, to then apply to your first permanent position. Most of all, don’t be arrogant. You will have 40 years of working ahead of you. Don’t try and run before you can walk properly.
Be aware of your social media profiles. A number of AFON folk have recently been challenged at interview about their social media outreach and how it reflects on them as a person, future employee etc. NGO staff will follow you on social media, so behave responsibly and with wisdom and balance. Don’t rant. Be prepared to defend your stances. Also, be prepared to change your stances to some degree (via flexibility) if you are employed and your conservation employer has a defined viewpoint. Being in a job, with income, responsibility and the chance to shape future conservation policymaking is far better than being unemployed on the sidelines. You will, as you rise up an organisation, gain more and more freedoms to input your own ideas, so bide your time carefully.
If you are a scientist/ecologist/biologist recognise that the conservation sector is a broad church and that there will be people from the Arts & Humanities (environmental historians, for example) and the Social Sciences who will have just as much gravitas as you in talking about and engaging with nature as a career option. Remember, eNGOs now are hugely diverse organisations with much investment taking place in areas like Communications, Marketing, Media, HR, Economics, Public Affairs, etc. There will be people competing against you who will have degrees and keen insights from diverse academic backgrounds. Nature conservation is no longer just about science, it is now about culture.