Unpaid research jobs in ecology and conservation are a complete travesty

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Environmental sciences tend to be dominated by white people, and white children of the well off. I know this because day to day to I work in a mathematics department modelling the likes of plankton and (right now) fisheries. However, I will regularly go along to meetings of environmental scientists. The groups of environmental scientists are always, how should I put it, less mixed.

Now we can spend all day arguing about why this is the case. The real issue is what to do about it. And here is an obvious one: get rid of unpaid “get your foot on the ladder” jobs in ecology and conservation. The erection of paywalls to progress in these fields should be seen as an avoidable mistake, but it often is not.

So it is good to see the subject getting some publicity in Nature this week.

The story focused on a Tumblr site created by Alex Bond, which names and shames organisations for creating unpaid intern jobs. This naming and shaming appears to have annoyed a lot of people. But if it has, well that’s just too bad. Many ecologists and conservationists have been happy to sit back in silence about unpaid interns for years. They should be angry about what unpaid internships represent, not the manner in which Bond has broached the issue.

Here is how Nature describes some of these internships:

The website includes opportunities to study crested black macaques in Indonesia, Damara mole rats in South Africa and, for Stack’s organization, humpback whales in Hawaii. The posts cover a range of duties, from trapping animals to collecting blood and faecal samples. Some warn of gruelling work in remote, rugged areas, and one job involved possibly fending off leeches and venomous snakes. The position in Indonesia, offered by a psychology PhD student at the University of Lincoln, UK, requires at least a bachelor’s degree in biology or a related field and involves 10–12 hours of work for 5 days a week. According to the posting, the assistant will not be paid and should be prepared to pay for their own travel and camping fees, although an existing crowdfunding campaign may help to cover some costs.

Pay for your own travel; pay for your own camping fees; pay for food. How is this racket even legal?

Volunteerism? Exploitation, more like.

Is naming and shame wrong here? Take this position Bond points to.

Currently there is NO funding available to support the field
assistant. The costs that the assistant should be ready to cover are:
– International travel to Indonesia (if required)
– National travel to Manado: 150¢æ approx. (return plane ticket)
– Monthly camp fees: 300¢æ/month (includes 3 meals per day and bills)
– Visa: approx. 100¢æ, but country dependent
– Permits: 1100¢æ Approx.
– Vaccinations (depending on personal requirements)
– Travel health insurance (Depending on the company; can be
200¢æ or more)
– Personal equipment: field clothes, backpack, appropriate foot gear…
(depending on personal requirements)
– Personal expenses: trips to town, free-time activities¡¦

I wouldn’t just name and shame these people, I would consider checking what the employment laws are and try to get them prosecuted.


One thought on “Unpaid research jobs in ecology and conservation are a complete travesty

    How to Get a Job in Conservation said:
    June 16, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    […] on the other side of the argument, many point out that we should be showing that we value our early career conservationists more, by […]


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