Is ecology for me?

A little about myself. A horribly long time ago I studied ecology as an undergraduate. I found the subject material interesting and I enjoyed the occasional field work that was on offer. I especially enjoyed a class on freshwater ecology, so I decided to make that the subject of my MSc. In retrospect (and as a warning to anyone else in a similar situation) I should have first spent time volunteering with, or working for, an organisation to determine if it really was for me.

Fast forward two years, and while I enjoyed my MSc, it was more class and lab based than I would have liked. I enjoyed it enough, however, that after my MSc I decided to work for the government as a freshwater scientist; I did so for close to two years. I didn’t mind the work, but it wasn’t challenging and the environment wasn’t great. There were few signs of progression (people would often joke that jobs would only became available when someone higher up died), at least not without additional education. And so I applied for a PhD …

A number of things, largely out of our control, went wrong in the field, so the project had to be changed drastically. Fast forward again, and I’m proud with what I’ve achieved given everything, but I’m also jaded; the field is extremely biased toward a handful of species, and the main impetus for research, at least in my experience, was to make anglers happy. I’m being flippant, but there’s some truth to that. I felt unvalidated and that my work was unimportant.

And so here I am, unsure about what to do next. While I like the complexity of freshwater ecosystems and the challenges that provides, there’s nothing unique to it that I enjoy or that I’m passionate about (unlike my friends). I know I don’t want to be in academia, though I enjoyed teaching. I’ve also lost all passion for freshwater field work, though I suspect that might just be because of what happened.

I’m unsure as to whether a change of say, vertebrate group, is all that is needed (I’m sure there are “pet” species in every field, but there seems to be less pressure to justify why certain species are important with respect to humans outside of ichthyology; I also don’t have any fondness toward fish), or if ecology just isn’t for me. My biggest mistake was not doing more fieldwork, either as a volunteer or as a paid technician, before going to grad school; I feel like a fool for pursuing this all for as long as I have. This field is driven on passion, and I’m not sure if I have any. Having gone through my PhD, I know I need a break. I’m of two minds as to what to do next however; do I try to re-motivate myself, that is pursue technician positions abroad in different fields, or should I stop wasting my time and think of pursuing a different career entirely. My age and the lack of job prospects within ecology push me toward the latter, but I also can’t help but feel I just didn’t go down the right path (or perhaps I’m just afraid to acknowledge it’s not for me).

Thank you for reading.

Edit: thought this was an interesting read:

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