"As Youth Engagement Officer in the Education team, it's my responsibility to engage with young people between the ages of 5 and 25 across the whole of the UK and get them involved in our work."

"I coordinate our Youth Ocean Network, communicate with a variety of youth groups, schools, colleges, universities and charities across the UK, and get out and about with these groups to complete face-to-face activities whenever I can. As this is a brand-new role within the organisation, I am also working closely with each department to deliver a business-wide strategy in the coming years, to incorporate young people in to every aspect of our work."

Katie Macfarlane

Did you always want to be a Youth Engagement Officer?

Not at all! When I was five I wanted to be a palaeontologist, and at fifteen I wanted to be a ballet dancer. In more recent years, I have 100% known that I wanted to work with young people in conservation education, but I've taken a bit of a detoured route into it! I definitely wouldn’t have predicted my career path 20 years ago, but I’m delighted I am where I am today.

How did you get into this role?

I’ve had a bit of a random route into conservation. I studied Archaeology at University and focussed on extinct species, archaezoology and ancient environments. I was always fascinated with nature in general, particularly the human relationship with it. After working in museums and tourist attractions for several years after I graduated, I decided I wanted to move into wildlife conservation.

I’ve always loved the natural world – being in it, learning about it, photographing it! I searched high and low for the right experience/course/job, and eventually lucked out by being one of twelve students that gained a place on a PG Diploma in Endangered Species Recovery, run by Durrell Conservation Trust in Mauritius! I lived in paradise for a while and gained hands-on and theoretical experience with some of the most endangered species in the world, but one thing I didn’t expect was how much passion I would develop working with the local children.

I come from a big family and have always worked in roles revolving around communication, so public engagement comes naturally to me. I thought to myself – is there anything more important than engaging young people about the natural world around them? I just love it!

On returning to Scotland, I worked in various zoological collections running the Education and Conservation departments and got involved in the wider conservation education community across the UK and Europe. A few years later, I decided to move on to explore charities working with children and young adults with health conditions, additional learning requirements, and disabilities.

I ran nature therapy workshops, outdoor education, and themed residentials, which encouraged young people (of all abilities and backgrounds) to socialise, get outdoors and have fun! The amazing young people I worked with made me realise it was the social interaction, opportunity, and skill building, as well as nature itself, that made these experiences so special. I’m a huge advocate for inclusion and hope to bring this into my work as the first ever Youth Engagement Officer with the Marine Conservation Society.

What would you say was your biggest challenge getting to where you are?

There are the practical challenges that come with any academic studies, such as how you are going to finance it, stepping outside of your comfort zone, taking the risk etc, but I would say the biggest challenge has definitely been mentally believing I would get there. I’ve lost count of how many conservation jobs I have applied for over the years – it can, and will, get disheartening. I hear from so many of the young people I work with today how tiring and frustrating it is trying to get a job in the conservation field as it is so competitive, but don’t give up! You will get to where you want to be eventually.

What’s the best bit about your job?

Definitely getting the chance to constantly engage with loads of amazing young people from across the UK. I meet inspiring, passionate people on a weekly basis – from toddlers to OAPs. I also love that moment when you are engaging with someone about (or in) nature, and they learn something new – there’s that “wait a minute, WHAT?” moment and they just smile. They can’t believe what you are telling them – and everyone spends a few seconds sharing their love for amazing nature!

What bit of advice would you give your younger self?

Just be yourself, keep networking, and don’t let anyone else’s opinion of you bring you down. Most of the opportunities I’ve had to date have been due to my networking – reaching out to someone or walking up to someone at a conference and just starting a conversation. Never underestimate how important good old fashioned communication can be in directing your career! I’d also say – keep volunteering, Katie! That’s going to come in very handy in your later years.

What’s your favourite sea creature?

There are of course too many to choose from, but I’d have to say either manta rays or whale sharks. Big fan of all sharks and rays, and these two are just spectacular.