Eugenie Regan

Eugenie Regan

Senior Programme Officer, Ecosystem Assessment Programme, UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge

Describe your job in a nutshell

I work in the Ecosystem Assessment Programme primarily in support of national and inter-governmental conservation initiatives.

I oversee a portfolio of projects at the science-policy interface on biodiversity and ecosystem services, monitoring and assessment but specifically around providing authoritative information in a manner that is useful to decision-makers who are driving change in environment and development policy.

How did you get into this role?

My background in ecology and latterly biodiversity data management. I have a degree in Environmental Science and a PhD in Ecology. I also spent a year in USA on a Fulbright scholarship with is a great way to broaden your horizons.

I was working in applied conservation research when the opportunity arose to join a team to run the Irish National Biodiversity Data Centre. I gained a lot of experience over six years on projects such as red listing and running a butterfly monitoring scheme.

So I was working at the ‘coal-face’ of biodiversity data side of things, until I applied for the job at UNEP-WCMC which is at international level, and so one step removed from the front-line work.

My experience at national level ā€“ knowing what it’s like to gather and mobilise biodiversity data ā€“ has given me insight into how we can achieve this at the international level and in countries with varying levels of capacity.

Now I’m feeding into processes such as IPBES (the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) and the Convention on Biological Diversity. It’s a super interesting job!

How different is it working at international level compared with national level?

I used to do a lot of fieldwork, but as I’ve progressed in my career I’ve done less and less, now I do no fieldwork at all in my current job. But I am at the heart of a lot of decision making processes now, feeding information in, which is quite a fast-paced environment.

Sometimes when we’re working directly with countries we can help them in a very tangible way. So the intergovernmental processes are often very slow, but on the other hand, we can work directly at national level and put things in place quite quickly for them.

People that have only worked at international level sometimes aren’t aware of how influential things at national level can be, and how countries can pick up on ideas quite quickly. Because of my previous experiences, I can often bring a new perspective.

Do you miss doing fieldwork?

Yes I do! Sometimes it feels as if I’m talking about all these things related to biodiversity, but Iā€™m not actually seeing them or dealing with them hands-on! But I’m quite extroverted, so it is nice to be working with people and I can see that my skills are really being put to use in this kind of job. I do love fieldwork though, so hopefully I can keep that up during the weekends.

Is it inevitable that you become more desk-based as you progress towards senior level in the conservation sector?

Yes, absolutely. But I think that it’s really fundamental that once you’ve gained a lot of experience in conservation, you can feed it to others. So it is a shame that you move away from fieldwork, but it is inevitable and actually very valuable that you do so.

You’ve got a very academic background, how important do you think this is in getting work in the conservation sector?

It’s funny, because on the one hand a PhD is just a test of your psychological mind frame! But on the other hand it is very well respected. I think now that it is essential to have at least a Masters degree or a PhD. They do equip you a with lot of different skills, but especially at international level, to have the title ‘Doctor’ in front of your name – alone lends a lot of weight.

Some cultures put a lot of emphasis on it. I think that to work in conservation, if you do a PhD it’s important not to get caught in the academic process too much, as the academic viewpoint can be quite narrow. It’s also quite nice to do a project which is practical as well, rather than something which is purely lab-based or highly theoretical.

In this sector the skills set that is needed is quite wide, so a breadth of work experience will help with this. Even a job which you might think is unrelated to conservation can equip you with transferable skills.

What skills do you need to make a success of your job?

A lot of soft skills are essential for this line of work; skills which are outside of the traditional academic realm. Project management skills, budgeting, and people management skills, are vital, as is facilitation: being able to run, host and organise workshops and meetings. I’ve also had training in negotiation which has come in really handy.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to progress in this sector?

I would say get experience is as many different aspects of the environmental sector as you can. Gaining working experience is essential.

In this sector the skills set that is needed is quite wide, so a breadth of work experience will help with this. Even a job which you might think is unrelated to conservation can equip you with transferable skills.

Perhaps consider doing an MBA, as it can train you up in skills which you won’t get in a scientific degree, but which are highly valued in the workplace and are rare in the environmental sector.