When Holly O’Donnel graduated from college, she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do. But she did know that she was interested in animal behaviour, conservation, field research—and warm weather.

She scored an internship at Para la Tierra in Paraguay—a country she’d never visited before. Her job involved walking through the forest each morning and collecting data on mouse opossums and other creatures.

“Most importantly,” she says, “I learned what I liked and what I didn’t like. And it wasn’t necessarily what I expected.”

Before going to Paraguay, she thought she wanted to be a primatologist—Jane Goodall was a huge inspiration to her when she was growing up.

“When I was in Paraguay,” she recalls, “I realized that although I loved walking through the forest and tracking the primates, I was less interested in standing for hours recording their behaviour.”

That insight led her to her first paid job, with Fauna Forever in Peru. That’s where she found her passion—the thing that really excited her.  As in Paraguay, she enjoyed walking the forest, finding animals, and collecting data. But in Peru, she learned she liked to quantify what she was finding. And through training interns on fieldwork practices, she also learned she loved to teach.

Securing a career in conservation can be competitive—so don’t be afraid to lean into the skills you have, Holly recommends. She’s the Director of Research at the ACEER Foundation and also does social media for the organization. She already enjoyed social media, and as it became an ever more important communication tool, it “somehow … ended up as a proper job.”

Her message: “If you enjoy sharing your conservation stories, don’t be scared to do that. You never know, it might lead to all sorts of other opportunities.”


About Holly O’Donnell:

Holly O’Donnell is a Scottish conservation biologist and expedition guide with a passion for tropical rainforests and understudied species. She has fieldwork experience in Antarctica, Zimbabwe, Paraguay, Ecuador, and Peru. For two years Holly studied large mammal populations in the Peruvian Amazon followed by a Post Graduate Diploma and three-year research assistantship at the University of Oxford’s WildCRU. Holly is the director of research and co-chair of the science and education advisory committee with the ACEER Foundation.


About Women Blaze Trails Festival:  

In celebration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science (February 11), LenovoEDU sponsored Women Blaze Trails, a virtual 3-day festival celebrating women in science, exploration, and conservation from around the world.  

The virtual festival had one simple goal: celebrating incredible women, and doing incredible things around the world, day in and day out. We’re sharing these videos from the festival so you can meet scientists, explorers, conservationists, filmmakers, photographers and more, showcasing their work, challenges, adventures, research and expeditions.