Thea – Communications Manager New


Emails, reports, bug bites and following primates around a tropical forest, just a regular day for Thea who is the Communications Manager at OuTrop, the Ourangutan Tropical Peatland Project, in Borneo. Do you think a job like this could be for you? Keep reading to find out more about what her current job and how she got there…

What attracted you to this job?
I really wanted to learn about working for an active conservation or research group at their site. I knew an ‘on the ground’ experience would teach me not only so much more about the inner workings of conservation and ecology, but also help me decide what I wanted to do for the next few years. Within my eight months so far, it’s definitely taught me a lot about international research and conservation, the peat-swamp ecosystem and how I want to apply my passion for ecology in the near future…

What does your typical day involve?
A typical day depends on whether I am based in the office or at the field site. I’m more often based in the office – as Communications Manager I need a good internet connection and lots of battery life on my laptop to send anywhere up to 30 emails a day to reach out to and correspond with people all over the world for OuTrop! Much of my time is spent getting reports, newsletters, the website, blog and all our contact with the public and funders ready and looking fabulous! On the days I’m working in the forest, I might be searching for animals in the middle of peat-swamp forest or following the primates that we research!

What gives you the most job satisfaction?
Having the responsibility to explain OuTrop’s work and the amount we are able to achieve in such a globally important area is very rewarding! Whether I am in communications with potential volunteers, other scientists, conservation groups in other areas or potential funders, I always enjoy explaining what we do and why – using as many types of media and design as possible. Working with our fantastic local staff has been amazing, they are some of the most intelligent and kindest people I have ever met. They know the forest unbelievably well. These reasons – and getting to see and research some fantastic Indonesian species, wild individuals and groups first hand, means I’m pretty satisfied!

What do your friends and family think about your job?
My friends and family think I do some really interesting work and get to see some amazing things – a lot of them were shocked that I chose to move to Borneo! I don’t know if all of them realise just how much time I spend on my computer. I do miss working in the UK – some of my friends know how hard it was to adapt to life out here. Lots of people are interested in the animals but when I explain what the forest is like each hour a lot of people say it wouldn’t be their idea of a perfect job – it’s pretty hard going in a hot, bug-filled swamp-forest!

Tell us more about your environment in terms of work-life balance
This is a very big deal in a conservation job when your office is also your home (same building!) and your personal computer holds all of your work… I have developed a good routine over the past months which makes sure I get out of the house, get some exercise, take a break from the computer and get my hands on some decent food! I get a certain amount of days off a month, not weekends, so it’s up to me to spread them out and take needed breaks. Sometimes there is a problem that I just find myself working every day and at all hours – but my friends/colleagues are always a welcome distraction, as are the weddings and new born babies of our local staff and friends.

How did you get where you are today?
I’ve always taken as many opportunities as possible, to experience every side of ecology. I try and talk to anyone I find interesting and remember any advice they give me. Being energetic, engaged and working really hard in education (ugly but true) meant I was accepted for this position.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of following your path?
Talk to anyone you think might be interesting; whom you admire, whom you’d like to work with or who works in an area you want to work in. Ask clear questions that will quickly tell you whether you are going to enjoy the work you are thinking about. If you don’t enjoy something you won’t be successful at it. Remember names and networks and what you learn from paper and from conversations. Act with good speed and with passion to achieve any goal – whether it takes an hour or a year.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field, and how much can this be expected to rise?
I work in a less developed country and I get a good local salary. Anyone wanting to retire early might want to skip conservation field work. If you get a lucky break, your income can rocket if you become a ‘go to’ person in a specific area, but this usually goes hand in hand with academia. Personally, I’m doing it to learn about and experience Borneo, to work some amazing people, contributing to aims I want to be achieved. I can earn money for other goals when I’m not in Borneo anymore.

What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?
There are some nice swimming pools here, the ultimate of which is a slide filled water park which has a bit of a reputation in my group! There’s also a very comfy super-cheap cinema. The best nights to relax are when new people arrive, birthdays and when old friends are heading home – on those nights no work gets done!

Have there been any embarrassing moments?
Getting from the town office to science site (or ‘camp’), we have to use a small canoe like boat. Once when I was stepping down the wooden planks to get into the boat, the rotting wood plank snapped in two, and my foot fell straight into the river. I quickly fell backwards onto my back, in front of some pretty cool primatologists. It was a bad day to wear a skirt.

You can keep up to date with Thea’s tropical adventures on Twitter: @Thea_124