What happens when you’re stuck in a career path you no longer wish to go down? The Watt Club caught up with Cella Carr, who was in exactly this situation in 2009…
“A degree in mechanical engineering and a decade spent working in technical communications and the e-learning industry are not the most obvious route into the world of nature conservation. I always wanted to do something different, something more ideologically motivated, but it took me a while to figure out how to go about making the change.
In 2009 I quit my job, swapped the desk for a backpack, and set off on an epic adventure that would lay the foundations for my decision to study for an MSc in Climate Change: Managing the Marine Environment at Heriot-Watt. During that year of travel through India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and South East Asia I experienced the world and the natural environment, both marine and terrestrial, more intensely than I had previously. I became more conscious of how we live in the world, the impacts we have—both good and bad—and the ways we use and abuse our natural resources.
Not having a background in marine biology I was worried that jumping in at Masters level might not be wise.
When I started researching my options for a Masters, I was immediately interested in the courses on offer at the School of Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt, as they seemed to tick all the right boxes. I really wanted to study something with a marine focus, but not having a background in marine biology I was worried that jumping in at Masters level might not be wise. However, the broad choice of modules on offer makes the MSc accessible to people from a wide variety of backgrounds, and it meant that I could tailor the course according to my own skills and interests.
There is a lot of innovative research going on at Heriot-Watt, and it was great to be exposed to that and to get an insight into that world through my lecturers, who had a diverse range of interests and expertise. One of the highlights of the course for me was the 3-month research project, which gave me an opportunity to do some fieldwork on the Isle of Cumbrae and develop my species identification skills in the lab. A group of us also travelled to Westminster to meet some of the politicians working on climate policy, which was a unique chance to see what goes on in the halls of power!
After graduation I was offered an internship with the Zoological Society of London, and I spent 6 months working on their Biodiversity and Palm Oil project in Indonesia. In the process, I gained some awareness of the vastly complex issues involved in conservation and the challenges faced by NGOs. I also came to realise the value and importance of good writing skills and clear communication in the context of conservation and found a way to apply the skills from my previous career to work that I am passionate about.
I recently joined the conservation capacity team at Fauna & Flora International in Cambridge, where I am part of the editorial team working on Oryx—The International Journal of Conservation. It is very inspiring to work with people who have a genuine passion and enthusiasm for their work, and I think I have finally found my niche!