Q&A with Allison Binley

What did you study?

I have a BSc in Biology and completed a PhD in the Biology Department at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. I am a quantitative conservation scientist who studies a variety of conservation problems. My dissertation focuses on how to use existing datasets, particularly those collected through citizen science programs, to improve conservation decision making and outcomes.

If you were a plant, what species would you be and why?

I’d like to be one of those flowers that co-evolved with pollinators so that they could mutually support one another.

Why do you work on environmental problems?

I love and value nature and wildlife, and want to ensure that they don’t disappear. There is also a growing body of evidence behind the benefits of biodiversity to human mental and physical health. I want to contribute to protecting species and improving the state of the planet.

How did you come to contemplate decision analysis and why?

In the past, I did a lot of on-the-ground conservation work, either through volunteering or working for the government. While these roles were important, I wanted to have a broader impact, which is why I moved on to research. However, as a researcher, I’m finding that translating my results into real-world action is challenging. Leaning into decision analysis is my way of trying to bridge the knowledge-action gap, so that my research can make more of a difference to biodiversity.

What did your career pathway to where you are now look like?

I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Victoria in 2015, with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. In the past, I have worked on a wide variety of projects, including captive breeding research in Australia, pinniped cognitive and sensory ecology in Germany, and coral reef restoration in Cambodia. More recently I worked for the Conservation Officer Service in British Columbia preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species, and volunteered on a number of bird monitoring and banding projects with Birds Canada and Wild Research. I am now a PhD candidate at Carleton University specializing in quantitative biodiversity conservation. When describing my career path to students, I always mention that this description does not accurately capture all the challenges associated with pursuing a career in conservation. Much of the work I did was unpaid, and I worked a series of odd jobs to support myself throughout all of this, including as a labourer at a cement plant, a movie extra, a dishwasher, and retail in a gift shop and a chocolate shop.

What is the hardest career decision you have made, and would you change it if you could?

I did not initially intend to do a PhD, but was originally enrolled in a Master’s program. I decided to fast-track it to a PhD after 1.5 years when I realized how much I enjoyed research. At the time it was a hard decision, but it was absolutely the correct path for me and I have no regrets.

What is your best piece of advice for an early career researcher in the environmental sphere?

Networking isn’t (just) about going to events and awkwardly introducing yourself. It’s about having conversations and building relationships with people who will help you grow as a scientist. Collaboration is key to both a successful career and better, more impactful research. Make sure you surround yourself with kind people, it makes a world of difference.

If you had one wish, what environmental issue would you solve and why?

To find a way to balance the needs of people with the needs of biodiversity. People need food and housing just as wildlife does, and conservation needs to be more equitable and realistic if we are to make a difference.