A postgraduate course at Edinburgh proved just the stepping stone Susie Weeks needed to secure the conservation job of her dreams in East Africa.
|MSc Environmental Management and Protection
|Year of Graduation
Your time at the University
My aim has always been to work in conservation in Kenya where I grew up but I didn’t feel I had the qualifications or connections to get my foot in the door, even for voluntary work, so I decided to do an MSc related to conservation and the environment.
I did my undergraduate in degree in London where rent and travel were expensive and finding affordable student accommodation meant friends were very spread out. I wanted to be somewhere more attractive and easier to get around without loosing the feel of being part of a buzzing city. Edinburgh University has a great reputation I liked the look of the course and went for it. My time at Edinburgh was fantastic. I made good friends and loved being able to cycle everywhere easily including into the countryside on my bike within half an hour.
My most memorable times were the field trips with my classmates around Scotland and in Greece, which were all part of the course. The camaraderie of supporting each helped during the times when you had to study for exams and writing up our thesis. I have never been super academic but I worked hard and got through because of my friends and did better than I expected. This taught me that that you can do more than you expect of yourself when you’re engaged in a sense of team spirit even when your peers are working on different subject matter.
The amazing resources at Edinburgh opened up a new world to me. Technology has come a very long way since that time, but Edinburgh offered way more in terms of access to research material, computers and IT support than I experienced as an undergraduate in at a smaller University.
Tell us about your Experiences since leaving the University
A year after graduating holding down endless shifts in and office by day and at a restaurant at night and during the weekends to make ends meet I got my first opportunity to return to Kenya to work in conservation and tourism.
I got a job working on ranch and wildlife conservancy in northern Kenya working long hours ‘back of house’ at the lodge and helping to set up a community conservation arm of the operation when there was time.
I was paid a basic wage but my food and accommodation were taken care of. I knew I wanted to get out of the tourism side of things pretty quickly but I was grateful for the starting point and was very happy to be based in an idyllic part of the Northern Kenyan bush.
My most memorable times were the field trips with my classmates around Scotland and in Greece, which were all part of the course. The camaraderie of supporting each helped during the times when you had to study for exams and writing up our thesis.
In 1999 I got a job working for the African Environmental Film Foundation helping a well known wildlife documentary maker, Simon Trevor, make conservation education films for local communities in their own languages.
Being Simon Trevor’s Assistant meant that I was a tripod bearer, the ‘B’ roll girl, the tea lady, the cook, the fundraiser, the bookkeeper and secretary. We were based in Tsavo National Park but we travelled all over Tanzania and Kenya to film, raise funds and meet and greet people. It opened my eyes to the harsh realities of erosion of our natural resources and what I care about most, wildlife.
Now I run the Mount Kenya Trust, an organisation that helps protect the integrity of Mount Kenya’s forests and wildlife. I got the position 14 years ago. It has been hard but rewarding work. Finding funding including your own salary is tough but it’s all about trying to conserve a vital water tower and the natural heritage of Kenya and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
My strengths lie more in practical solutions to conservation problems and building partnerships than in science and research and I though I think both are important I focus on what I am best at. I am very lucky to work with dedicated small team with different strengths and we are expanding our capacity all the time.
Even if your course differs slightly from where you really want to be it will always be a great stepping-stone into the next chapter of your life. If you have the opportunity to do interesting courses in other faculties take them.
Take full advantage of beautiful Edinburgh and all that it offers. Cycle everywhere even though the winds will at times have you pedalling hard to get downhill, lean on your friends and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.