James Borrell is a biodiversity scientist and science communicator researching how people and nature can adapt to environmental change.

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.