My Degree: Conservation Biology (Past)

What do I do? Good question.

As a biology major in my undergraduate degree, I often got lumped in with the students headed for medical school. When I clarified that my major was conservation biology, I got a lot of puzzled looks. Basically, conservation biology “is the management of nature and biodiversity (variety all living things) with the aim of protecting species, their habitats, and ecosystems.”

Unlike a lot of people, I’ve been lucky enough to know what I wanted to do with myself (kind of) from quite a young age and have carried that passion, energy and curiosity into my adult life. I will tell the story of my degree in three installments: past (how I got into my degree and my education and experience up to this point), present (my graduate degree and dissertation topic) and future (what I hope to do with it).

My first family trip to Hawai’i when I was about ten sparked my interest in marine life. To this day, I find encounters with sea life beautiful and breathtaking (pun intended). Around that same time, I read the book Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, about young kids stopping the construction of a waffle house when they discover the land is occupied by burrowing owls. That family trip and novel made me appreciate the intrinsic beauty of nature and its critters and sparked my interest in how to protect them.

High school

In my junior year of high school, I took my first environmental science class, which most notably introduced me to the horrors of factory farming. After watching Food, Inc. in class, my classmate Roxane and I were inclined to try a vegetarian lifestyle and that has more or less been my ethic since, and that was six years ago (read my five year anniversary post here). That class gave me a more professional direction with my life just as I was about to start applying for college.

Undergraduate degree

When I began to get more serious about applying for university, I met up with my neighbor Sean, who was about to begin his final year at Arizona State University studying sustainability. Sustainability tries to marry conservation, politics and business to avoid the depletion of natural resources. Hearing about Sean’s program, I was interested in doing that degree myself.

Once I was accepted to Arizona State and bought all my textbooks, I met up with Sean again just for him to tell me I misunderstood what my degree was. The degree I was enrolled in was biological sciences (conservation biology and ecology), which I thought was just a fancy name for sustainability. As it turns out, it’s something totally different. My dad told me that the degree I was enrolled in was probably more what I wanted: interactive and science-based. So I rolled with it.

My first few years of my undergraduate degree were uneventful with the exception of my year abroad. I took basic introductory classes that weren’t particularly relevant to what I wanted to do. While some introductory biology classes touched on climate change and conservation, I didn’t really dive into the subject or find my passion until my final year of my degree.

Even though half of my final year was making up for the credits that didn’t transfer from my year abroad, I also took some really incredible classes including conservation of biodiversity, environmental ethics, animal behavior and vertebrate zoology. You can read more about these courses in my Favorite University Courses post.

In addition to great courses, I was also involved in volunteer field work and research (wetlands and hummingbird courtship patterns), clubs (School of Life Science Ambassadors and The Society for Conservation Biology) and mentoring programs.

Through my professors, I had a lot of awesome opportunities and networking options that led me to getting a job right out of my degree.

Arizona Game and Fish Department internship

Over summer, I got a competitive, paid, full-time internship with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, a state government agency dedicated to future of wildlife conservation. I got to dabble around different departments and tasks to see what I like, including administrative duties, fisheries, field work, research, education and more.

I also spent time at the International Wildlife Museum, where I was involved in education and outreach initiatives. You can read more about my job and what I did in my New Job post and my Months In Review posts from May to August.

That is the story of my degree until now. Stay tuned for the “Present” version coming up in a few weeks as I finalize my thesis!



  1. Charlene Redpath
    October 28, 2017 / 8:14 pm

    I met students when I worked at ASU but none had the passion for their major that is so obvious in your posts. All your hard work and enthusiasm for conservation biology is paying off! Luckily for your family you didn’t pursue space exploration! Lots of love, AC

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