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On Graduating and The Real World (it’s OK to do something different)


Here’s a quick piece I put together for the folks over at Escape The City. I wrote to them last year, when I was barely a year on from graduating and half way through an overland journey to Istanbul with a back-of-the-envelope plan to ‘Love Monday Mornings’. Here’s an update…

The Escape Blog

Well, it’s now two years and this Monday morning I’m emailing from Lapland believe it or not, a couple of hundred miles above the Arctic Circle. This isn’t a holiday, or a get-it-out-of-your-system adventure before coming home to a ‘real’ job. This is work now, and it’s great.

I’ve followed you guys for a long time, enjoying your blogs and progress; but I’ve never had a corporate job so didn’t really count myself as part of your community. It was hearing about EscTheCity whilst at university helped me have the confidence never to get in to a situation where I needed to escape. I imagine you’ve probably helped a lot of other people in the same way, maybe without realising it!

When you graduate, a lot of people tell you that you need to join the real world. That you can’t necessarily expect to enjoy work because it’s work. I was told by one particularly respected professor that if you have an adventurous spirit, or the ‘travel bug’, then go backpacking for a couple of months to get it out of your system, come home and just get on with it.

I didn’t really agree; but at the same time I knew I was young, probably naive, and certainly overly-optimistic. 

I wanted to do something that I could get excited about, something that in some small way made a difference (but when I said it aloud, it sounded ridiculous). The fact that thousands of corporate professionals were leaving their jobs to do just that really made it seem a lot more plausible.

My passion is conservation. So, I said yes to every small opportunity that came my way, I met people, I volunteered, I worked hard and earned only experience. Over the course of two years I ended up photographing leopards in Arabia, monitoring biodiversity in the Amazon and working on a reserve in South Africa. I kept thinking my luck might run out. But when a PhD opportunity came up last year studying mountain woodland conservation, and it paid just enough to live off, I applied and got it.

Nine months later, I’m in this remote corner of the world because here the forest stretches untouched for hundreds of miles and we can learn so much from it. The sun shines 24 hours a day, and my morning commute frequently involves a rowing boat. Last night, after working all day, we moored up on a tiny island in the middle of a lake and cooked over a camp fire.

It’s not fun and games all the time of course. There’s plenty of days where the wind and rain close in, and plenty more sat in front of a computer. But in the end, I really do think this will make a difference, and that is still what gets me up on a Monday morning.

So to anyone still at university preparing to face the ‘real world’, don’t worry: It’s OK to do something different.

Thanks Escape The City!

James Borrell


Find out more about Escape The City over on their website or on facebook.

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  1. Liesel

    Ok but if you don’t know the right people, then you don’t get the opportunities to gain experience and if you live where I live then all other opportunities found on the internet for example such as for volunteering, are catering for overseas people that pay them large amount to be able to volunteer. What then? To have money to be able to do these things to gain experience is one thing, but what to do when you don’t have the money to throw around to be able to gain these experiences?

    • James_Borrell

      Hi Liesel,

      I think you make a really good point, it’s definitely easier to do some of these things if you have a huge pot of money to help you. But I also think that it’s enthusiasm and motivation that really counts, and luckily you can have that for free.

      Where do you live out of interest?

      Have you thought about starting small with citizen science projects, or perhaps volunteering with small local conservation charities? Around London we have organisations like ‘TCV’ and Trees for Cities. It might not sound as cool as counting turtles in Guatemala, but it’s a very good place to start and you would be amazed at the number of like-minded people you can meet.

      Good luck!


  2. Sorcha

    Hey James! LOVE this post. I graduated uni 5 years ago… and im still not ready to join the ‘real’ world (whatever that is).. however, I did a degree in media, and have no scientific background… do you think there is any chance of me getting into the conservation world? Its taken me til im 27 to believe I can make a difference!! 🙂 And im ready to hit it hard! Thanks in advance!

    • James_Borrell

      If you did media, you probably understand the real world better than most ecologists! So why not see how you can use those skills to get the issues across to the public? Whatever you do, good luck!

  3. Ellie

    I’ve got a background in illustratiom but i work a rather dull 9-5. I went to borneo last year and i have wanted to go back and somehow help with its diminishing rainforests ever since. Of course we cant all be so lucky and i would just love to have a job that i feel makes a diference to something i feel very passionate about – the planet, so I’ve been considering going into conservation. I have absolutely no idea where to start however. Im 25 but really dont have the means to go back to school. Any ideas?

  4. engineer to conservationist
    engineer to conservationist02-01-2018

    I’m currently working as an engineer and I want to shift to wildlife conservationist. Aside from being the top of my class in Biology on my high school years, I don’t have any educational qualifications and experiences in conservation. But I have the passion in conservation of wildlife. Where can I start? I am a Filipino and I don’t know someone to ask for any helpful advices. I think wildlife conservation was not really a popular job here in our country but I want to make an impact on our environment and to the lives of these animals. Please help me.

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