Ecological Employment Erosion: A Recollection

Coming out wide eyed and full of hope…

The year was 2012, I had just arrived back home in Malawi fresh from the ecstasy and euphoria of a very colorful graduation ceremony at my alma mater, Africa University near Old Mutare in Zimbabwe’s eastern most province, Manicaland.

Africa University is named rightly so as it boasts to be one of Africa’s leading pan Africanist education institutions, almost every African nationality is represented in the student body and the faculty is also composed of a myriad of different nationalities. I had just graduated top of my program with an Honors degree in Natural resources in a class that had students from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, The Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola.  As such I felt owed every entitlement to celebrate, and the $75 prize money I got for emerging the top student promised to be just a preamble to endless accolades coming my way out of this significant achievement.  I had done my part in maintaining excellent grades and authoring one hell of a dynamite dissertation, so in turn, I expected the universe to come through with rewards by way of job opportunities and potential scholarships for further education.

Africa University Campus view

I wasn’t too naïve to assume that just because I had bested my classmates then therefore headhunters from large ornate and respectable environmental institutions would be lining up at my door competing for my signature like some “high school All American star athlete” being pursued by college scouts. Certainly, my dreams of post college grandeur and opulence didn’t get that delusional. However, in all rightfulness and in the name of everything logical I expected my highly decorated Honors degree to lend me more than a fighting chance in the quest of landing a promising career in the field of Ecology.

Graduation ceremony
Graduation ceremony

Oh Gravity, why can’t we seem to keep it together?

The reality was to prove different. Four months following my graduation, I found myself with no solid leads nor prospects of penetrating and entering my preferred industry, as simply there were no entry level job opportunities for a nature enthusiast, let alone the “Best Graduating Student in Natural Resources” (that’s what my award says by the way). Countless hours and precious bandwidth spent behind the computer screen, filling endless sections and drafting numerous essays for scholarship applications had also only manifested an ever-growing collection of “letters of regret”, to the point where I seriously started questioning the true value or rating of my alma mater and subsequent degree.

It was in the fifth month of the “Real World” that I swallowed my pride and lowered my expectations. I was no longer just after ecological job opportunities, I was after any job, the rest would follow (I assured myself). It was then when I took up an opportunity in social work that ended up being a six-year adventure working at the grassroots level in some of Malawi’s most marginalized communities.

As the years started creeping in and my work experience further diverted away from everything I had been trained in at university, I desperately but firmly held on to the dream that I would utilize my education and passion to their appropriate level. Any chance I got to engage with environmental work and practitioners was cherished, I regularly kept in touch with much luckier likeminded people who had found work and opportunities befitting our shared passion. I volunteered at any opportunity for anything I felt would reinvigorate my dream of participating at the cutting edge of issues related to Natural Resources and Environmental work.

All this while I had felt that I was alone, was even of the idea that my peers were outperforming my efforts. Whilst I had flourished in lecture theaters and examination halls, it seemed everyone else apart from me was gaining ground in work experience and other opportunities. The problem was that I had isolated myself away from my ex-classmates, so I couldn’t measure the accuracy of this theory. But when I started to reconnect with some of these old colleagues and started creating relationships with new friends by way of similar interests, it was both refreshing and daunting to finally find some common ground: Jobs in ecology are hard to come by and take a lot more resilience and persistence to proliferate.

Keep the Dream Alive!

For someone who has certainly not just trusted the system, but also been patient with it, I find managing the balance between nurturing young emerging passions in Ecology and being forthcoming with the industry’s truths or realities a bit unsettling. One usually has to code switch from being an overly romantic optimist to a harbinger of less than pleasant reality checks.

However way one can see it, the fact remains, there are a lot of passionate dreamers with boundless amounts of energy in the field of Ecology, but very little jobs and opportunities in comparison. A very asymmetrical situation. How are we then expected to harness prospective new talents and promote interests in ecology when there are inadequate incentives to include everyone? Passions are important precursors to direct action but are hardly sustainable when not enhanced with the right investments in opportunity and enterprises.

We would rather sooner acknowledge the inadequacies affecting our niche and engage in more conversations that would deal with channeling passions in Ecology into rewarding initiatives that in turn act as catalysts for more innovation and proactivity.

From someone who persisted nine years from graduation till getting a full-time job in Ecology, my advice to any upcoming stalwart in this majestic field of ours is; remain persistent and keep the dream alive, the system might take its time, but it eventually recognizes true potential.

8 thoughts on “Ecological Employment Erosion: A Recollection”

  1. These are indeed the realities that shock many and its also sad to say a few manage to revive that dream and bounce from the bare minimum. Your story is truly remarkable.

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