Conservara - Victor Cazalis

Conservation Analyst for Research Application

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Leaving academia

In January 2023, I left academia to work on global conservation from a different perspective. These very subjective lines are here to explain these reasons.

Since I started my Bachelor in ecology, I have been obsessed with the idea to do conservation science that would be both global and applied. In my PhD, I explored how research could deliver messages relevant to policy makers (e.g., international agreements on protected areas are not met), while during my postdoc I explored how research could support key conservation initiatives (e.g., how can we fasten Red List assessment process). After believing for many years that I could find a way to do research that would meet the dream vision that I have of an applied research, I now think that conservation science is expecting too much from researchers, which are not necessarily the most effective community to achieve applied goals.

The main inherent blockage that I identified in conservation research is the centrality of papers in the research process. First, this leads research projects and outputs to be driven by novelty rather than usefulness and impact. I observed in many cases that applied conservation needs were very simple (e.g., information on how much deforestation happens within protected areas; showing Red List assessors which species gained GBIF records since last assessment); however, while researchers may be the most skilled and funded to provide such information, they cannot publish such work and will thus either not provide this output or provide it burried in a paper appendix, thus often making the output too complex or inaccessible for end-users. Second, repetition is often a key element to make a science output useful (e.g., providing year estimates of protected areas deforestation, providing regular priority lists for Red List assessors); however, most research projects stop at publication of the article and are never re-run: researchers consider the work done at publication and it is very difficult to publish an update of a previously made analysis.

During my postdoc, I realised that what I considered the most applied in my work (i.e., providing some tools to Red List assessors, making analyses that can integrate NGO reports, communicating with media and outreach) were actually peripheral elements to the job of researcher. Although my 5 years of research were passionate (I truely enjoyed running the analyses I did and writing papers), I felt that I lacked interest for the core work of academia and was now only interested in the peripheral elements. Additionally, while indeed a researcher position offers to play with these peripheral elements, I started thinking that NGOs were better suited for these aspects. Indeed, the collective structure of NGOs make them, I think, more suited to handle communication and lobbying (e.g., because they have specifically trained staff and are more identified than individual researchers) and to work towards applied-oriented projects (e.g., because they are less influenced by the need to be novel, or by the individual interests which are very strong in academia given the current pressure to get a position or grants).

This made me reconsider what could be my role in conservation. Considering that NGOs are making the most important work from an applied perspective, I will now try not to replace them in speaking with media, policy makers, or conservation stakeholders, but instead to support them with relevant research methods and skills, so that they can provide the best and most useful outputs. The three values behind this idea are impact (I will look for projects that are directly useful to the conservation community), simplicity (I will always prefer simple methods if they provide the output needed by the community), discreetness (I will aim at supporting conservation stakeholders rather than looking for a place in the light, which I think researchers - including me - tend to do too often). This is what I will try to achieve with Conservara: providing the skills and thoughts that I developed in academia to applied conservation stakeholders that may lack such resources.