In this article I take some time to share my experiences of pursuing my career and the challenges that I have had to face. I’m sharing this because I want to help those who are thinking of pursuing a career in palaeontology who may not feel that they have what it takes to be able to get there.
What you are about to read is probably my most honest blog post on Jurassic Finds thus far. I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about life’s challenges, Mental Health and pushing yourself too much.
So, I have decided to suspend my Palaeobiology MSc studies for a further 6 months after already suspending them for 5 months. Unfortunately, I failed all my exams in January last year and the pressure to perform alongside the thesis is just too much for me. Sadly, I am also dealing with family issues which has made focusing on studies pretty much untenable.
Many people do not know this, but I have been a young carer. I still am in a lot of ways at the age of 27. This has obviously taken its toll and has been difficult to deal with alongside studies throughout from college all the way through to my degree/MSc. I am also not what many people would call academically gifted, having dyspraxia and dyscalculia which I was diagnosed with as a child. I have always struggled with exams but also studies anyway.
I am also a practicing Catholic and my faith is very important to me. Before ultimately pursuing a career in palaeontology and moving to Bristol, I was heavily involved in volunteering in my parish church in Tavistock, Devon. From 2010-2016 I was a parish contact for the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) and volunteer for Hosanna House Children’s Pilgrimage Trust (HCPT). I was also very involved in community volunteering in Tavistock as well (Tavistock Primary School, Oxfam Bookshop, Tavistock Library, Tavistock Museum, Tavistock Area Christians Together).
I first started volunteering at the age of 16 and haven’t really stopped since. I helped parishioners at my church in Tavistock to raise over £7,000 for CAFOD from 2010-2016 and fundraised for HCPT over the same time. I co-led the monthly church Youth Group, helped with the children’s liturgy, was part of the church cleaning team and organised CAFOD resources, harvest suppers/soup lunches and attended CAFOD meetings throughout the local area. I also looked after three different disabled children with HCPT on pilgrimages to Lourdes in France in 2013, 2015 and 2016 respectively and fundraised for myself to go. In 2013 I helped to fundraise over £1,000 for the church parish Youth Fund.
Over the course of my Geography degree from 2012-2016, I completed over 784 hours of volunteering work alongside my degree whilst being a young carer.
I actually took a year out of my Geography degree in 2014 due to depression unrelated to the studies but even then, whilst heavily depressed I volunteered in the CAFOD Plymouth regional office and did 170 hours of volunteering work for the year which made up part of my Plymouth Award. This volunteering work in the office included organising campaigns, phoning CAFOD supporters, writing 25 blog articles and so much more. I also became a CAFOD MP correspondent and wrote regular letters to my local MP about CAFOD’s work and the issue of climate change.
In 2016 I applied for many gap year opportunities to have a break from my degree and to pursue a career in the humanitarian sector at the time. I applied for the CAFOD Step into the GAP gap year and was accepted for an interview. I was up against other people but thankfully was chosen alongside another gapper for the year to volunteer at St Mary’s Catholic Academy in Blackpool. I shared CAFOD’s work with over 3,500 people (students, children and parishioners etc.) throughout the Diocese of Lancaster, Clifton, and Plymouth across the year. I also went out to Cambodia for three weeks with CAFOD to spend time with the Cambodian people the charity was helping.
For the first three months of the gap year in Blackpool I was emotionally exhausted due to my caring responsibilities I had and the responsibilities I had to leave and pass on from my church.
Stress, depression and expectation have been a big part of my life. I can honestly say that I haven’t had a year where I have had a proper break. When I visited the Isle of Wight last year, I didn’t actually have a break. I volunteered with the Dinosaur Isle Museum and my thoughts were very much on the Vallis Vale paper I was writing at the time. Which is why taking time off now is the right decision for me.
People will be shocked to hear that there have been many times where I have felt totally worthless. There have been times where everything was so overwhelming for me that I felt I was just about keeping my head above water. Or that I wasn’t doing enough. The crazy thing is I have appeared in over 14 newspaper articles in the UK (National and Local) relating to my volunteering work with CAFOD, HCPT and Tavistock Museum and many more online articles (CAFOD blog, CAFOD Lancaster blog, CAFOD Plymouth blog, Blackpool Gazette, Tavistock Times Gazette, Huffington Post etc.).
I also appeared on BBC Radio Devon in 2013 with CAFOD talking about The Enough Food For Everyone IF campaign, audio of which you can listen to here. I even have a graduate profile on the Plymouth University website which is out of date in terms of my career goals but is still readable and accessible about my CAFOD gap year.
My media presence hasn’t really changed for me really, apart from the shift from charity work to palaeontology. As I have been so involved with the online Jurassic Park community over the years on Twitter and with the The Jurassic Park Podcast. My most recent collab video I did with Klayton Fioriti on palaeontology in Jurassic World: Dominion has now passed over 46,000 views.
So why am I sharing this? Because learning to say No is ok. Knowing your limits of what you can and cannot achieve is ok. Before pursuing palaeontology, I took on so many roles despite the family responsibilities I already had. Whilst I am appreciative that I had those experiences, looking back I did far too much and was relied upon very heavily.
Word of mouth about me doing the CAFOD volunteering was so good before going on to do the gap year in 2016, that a parishioner told me they had attended an event and that some of the people at this event were talking about me because I had been so present at CAFOD meetings, rallies, lobbies, events and within CAFOD local media. Basically most people who knew about CAFOD and HCPT across Devon, Cornwall and Dorset knew who I was and the volunteering work I had been doing.
I still struggle with peoples expectations of me. There were expectations on me from parishioners and people I had met and connected with before my gap year that I was going to work for CAFOD in London afterwards which ultimately was something I considered at the time, but the gap year which was an amazing experience changed my perspective on it all. I have had expectations from the University to deal with recently as well. Dealing with such expectations over the years has been difficult for me, not least because I as a result have such high expectations of myself which is one of my fatal flaws and something I know I need to work on.
I want to address the career change for those who may not have studied palaeontology and Geology but very much want to pursue it. You have to be very committed! There will be lots of setbacks and you just have to work through them. I received a fantastic email from a prospective palaeontology student over the past few months through the blog and responded back with some helpful advice. Basically, don’t worry about the competition, focus on what you can do to build up as much experience as possible, volunteering, reading, applying for internships, fossil hunting, networking, whatever.
I was knocked back initially for my Masters and then did the At The Feet of the Dinosaurs internship and loads of volunteering to get on to it the following year. Even now I feel like I slightly have imposter syndrome because I am still learning about palaeontology. Despite all the volunteering with the Bristol Dinosaur Project and Bristol Museum even having a published paper to my name, because the change from charity work to palaeontology has been big for me. I can give a presentation to 200 people on CAFOD’s work no problem but palaeontology is complicated. I love the subject so much! But there is still so much that I myself don’t know. If I can get this far despite everything I have had to manage you can too! Don’t let what you are dealing with in life stop you from pursuing your dream!
For me it has been a difficult but enjoyable slog. If you have read the other articles on this blog you know the immense work I have put into palaeontology volunteering, article writing, as well as doing stuff for the Jurassic Park Podcast and the fan community. None of this stuff is paid either. During my MSc I very much prioritised my university studies over the blog and the other stuff I was doing which was the right decision. But I fully admit I am a workhorse. I throw myself into work and like being busy. But having limits and having boundaries is good. Self care is also really good. It is definitely something I need to work on a lot more. Taking things slow and steady.
My achievements are vast! The experience I have is dynamic and expansive. I am Thankful for all of it, I really am. I haven’t been gifted a lot of what I have achieved. It has all come down from solid hard work. Quite frankly I still cannot understand how I have achieved it all, despite my caring responsibilities and what I have had to manage.
I am looking forward to the time off now to really cultivate who I am and focus attention on the important things. Whilst I have commitments to the Jurassic Park Podcast and this blog, these are side things which I can dip in and out of as much as I like. I will finish my Masters, ultimately I don’t know what life has in store for me but I am very excited for what lies ahead.
If you are interested in reading through the vast amounts of articles about my volunteering and all the palaeontology stuff I have been up to you can view them all on my LinkedIn page. I hope this blog post has been insightful and helpful especially. If you are wanting to pursue a career in palaeontology and would like advice feel free to email me through my contact page!