You’ve read the headlines – marine animals found with plastic trash in their bodies; microbeads from skincare products entering the food chain; and widespread deforestation endangering thousands of species, leaving them vulnerable to extinction. These are just the tip of the problems currently threatening life on Earth and reflect how human-driven actions have led us to a full-blown climate crisis.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres described climate change as the defining issue of our time. At a more local level, communities, grassroot organisations and local governments are rising up to tackle the climate emergency. From Canada to China, this issue isn’t lost on individuals and businesses too. Many are grappling with the fact that we must change our lifestyles and make hard – and sometimes inconvenient – decisions to reverse its adverse effects before it’s too late. Unsurprisingly, demand for conservation professionals are set to grow amidst this backdrop.
A postgraduate degree in the biological sciences is critical for individuals interested in and wishing to develop expertise in conservation. It serves as the foundation for students to contribute towards improving sustainability efforts, whether that’s in policy-making, research, or management.
Victoria University of Wellington has an internationally respected reputation in the biological sciences with its world-class staff and research quality, cementing the university as one of New Zealand’s best. Here, students are exposed to opportunities to engage in ground-breaking international research and discovery. To study here is to be at the centre of government and policy action too, thanks to the university’s location in the country’s capital.
Encapsulating all aspects of contemporary biology
VUW’s School of Biological Sciences’ programmes cover the full range of contemporary biology, but for students passionate about conservation, the School offers two Master by coursework programmes: Master in Conservation Biology (MConBio) and Master in Marine Conservation (MMarCon).
VUW’s one-year MConBio programme is ideal for those keen on making a valuable contribution to environmental conservation. The course links conservation, ecology, biodiversity and sustainability; students will get the scientific expertise needed to do conservation work in New Zealand and around the world by learning from world leaders in conservation practice. This includes internationally respected scientists whose work informs the management of New Zealand’s unique biota.
Meanwhile, aspiring experts in the conservation and management of marine organisms and ecosystems can enrol in the Master of Marine Conservation programme. The MMarCon exposes students to a wide range of topics, which include courses on current issues in marine science, marine conservation, tropical biology and fisheries science.
Students will need to complete courses worth a total of 180 points for both the MConBio and MMarCon programmes.
These postgraduate programmes are unique as they use a case study approach at important field sites in New Zealand to ensure students can put theory into practice. Students have the opportunity to travel around the country to observe management practices and explore the country’s unique flora and fauna.
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s proximity to Asia also provides wider opportunities for students to travel and study. For example, VUW offers a two-week field course in the Tropical Marine Conservation Practice based either in the Wakatobi Marine National Park, Indonesia or the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.
Moulding biological science graduates with strong, flexible capabilities
VUW alumna Laura Wakelin, who graduated with a degree in MMarCon, said students were exposed to a wide range of topics in the field and gained practical experience in conservation practice in both New Zealand and Australia.
The university’s excellent facilities contribute to it being a great learning environment, while students also had access to speakers, seminars and real-life issues to discuss and learn about. All of these prepared her for her current career.
“The broad range of skills, knowledge and experience that I gained through my time at VUW and under the MMarCon programme was key to being able to work successfully as a marine advisor within a government setting,” said the 31-year-old.
She was introduced to her future employer through the course material; when the opportunity presented itself to gain an internship with them, VUW gave her the flexibility to tailor her job application to the role and needs of that organisation.
Meanwhile, Aaria Dobson-Waitere, who graduated with a MConBio, said she enjoyed two memorable field trips as a student at VUW. One included a trip to Te Waipounamu, an island in New Zealand, where she went whale watching in Kaikoura and heard inspiring stories from conservationists on their projects. In Indonesia, she learned about the impacts of environmental policies on local indigenous communities, among others things.
“Both of the jobs I’ve had since graduating from VUW have been directly related to the environmental studies that I undertook at university. These roles have provided me with many opportunities to implement what I have learnt in meaningful ways. Particularly, in the confidence it gave me to navigate different spaces, engage more meaningfully with communities and impart knowledge with others,” said the 25-year-old.
So, if you’re passionate about the environment and wish to develop the capabilities to champion a sustainable future, start your journey with VUW.