The enigmatic tiger is just one of the world’s most endangered animals. Unfortunately, the lesser known endangered species do not get as much attention and awareness that they should.
Atula Gupta, our next pathbreaker, Content Marketeer & Freelance Writer, has been running India’s Endangered species website for the last ten years, which has grown into a go-to website for people interested in news, views and information about endangered wildlife of India.
Atula talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about the satisfaction of creating an online portal that has broadened the reader’s knowledge about many rare, threatened and endangered species of India, from the Gooty Tarantula, to the Great Indian Bustard, and helping these species to get the recognition they deserve instead of fighting an extinction battle remaining invisible.
For students, if you cannot identify a career that aligns with your interest and skills, go ahead, take the lead and create your own niche and make a difference in whatever you do !
Atula, tell us about your background?
I was born and brought up in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. My mother was Principal of a school and recently retired as Academic Director. My father, an electronic engineer by profession, runs his business. He is also a visiting faculty for many engineering colleges.
I opted for Biology in school based on my interest. I was also interested in singing, dancing and dramatics. Being from a family inclined towards cultural and literary activities, I was regularly part of cultural programmes, in school and in the community. I also played Basketball and represented my school in various competitions. I was also the college basketball captain and played for the University at national level.
My parents believed in overall development rather than rote learning and encouraged my brother and me to actively participate in everything we were interested in, while giving equal attention to our academics. With reading being a common interest with everyone in the family, I also grew up reading a lot of books as a kid and writing my own stories and poetry as a hobby.
Looking back, it is the myriad of interests that shaped my thinking and ability to quickly learn many things.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I did my BSc. and later my MSc. In Organic Chemistry from Holkar Science College, Indore. I was a gold medalist in graduation and postgraduation.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and rare career?
Soon after my post graduation, I began applying to many companies, especially in the pharmaceutical industry as I had a chemistry background. However, I found an ad one day where an advertising agency was looking for a Copywriter. At that point of time, I did not know what a copywriter did, but the ad looked interesting and I applied. During the interview, I was asked to create an ad for a popular cellular company as a test, and the Copy Head as well as the Creative Director liked my work so much that they hired me immediately. It wasn’t my academic background but my creative bent of mind that got me my first job!
I became fascinated with the world of advertising soon and learnt a lot from my seniors in the ad agency who groomed me to understand the copywriter’s role and work on Print ads, TVCs, Radio jingles and Corporate Brochures. I honed my English and Hindi writing skills too, especially learning how to use the fewest of words to convey a lot.
Later, I combined my love for science, writing and copywriting by pursuing a career in science & environmental journalism and content marketing.
Tell us about your career path
In my first job as a copywriter, there was an opportunity to use a lot of my skills as a writer as well as a singer, dancer or a drama artist when I would write scripts for a TV commercial or a jingle. Even my science background helped understand many medical or technical terms of a client’s product in a better way. I also believe that the logical and analytical thinking that develops with science, effectively channeled my creativity in a better direction. I was recognized nationally and internationally for my work.
The next turning point was when I was expecting my child and opted for part-time or freelance roles to balance personal and professional life. That was the time when blogging had not yet become too popular in India, but countries like the US and the UK had already started using it as a tool to start home-based or online businesses. I began writing for a few websites on topics related to health, parenting, advertising etc. I also started contributing fictional stories to Chandamama magazine, and writing cultural and science-based stories for magazines. While working on these, I began thinking of starting my own professional site based on a blog format. It was the same time when a lot of news was being published around the number of tigers drastically going down in India and the world. As I read about tigers, I realized that I knew very little about other threatened wildlife of India. I began researching and after a lot of effort, found only bits of information in a few places and magazines. That’s when I felt the need to study myself and keep track of all developments related to endangered species and their conservation in India. In 2011, my first blog on endangered wildlife appeared on my site www.indiasendangered.com
As I had learnt a lot of design elements in my days in advertising, I used those skills to design the logo, the site format etc. I also learnt basic coding through online tutorials, and trial and error to code and set up the site. My intention right from the start was to educate myself and people like me who are interested in nature and wildlife conservation to know more about rare species in a simplified and digital-friendly way rather than science heavy jargons or books.
How did you get your first break?
My efforts began getting recognized. I was asked to write environmental articles for newspapers like Deccan Herald for which I have been writing for almost a decade now. Renowned conservationist Jeff Corwin and his partner Anurag Agarwal also took notice of my work and offered me the role of global content head in their new trans-media company Junior Explorers based in the USA, on nature and wildlife conservation learning for children.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
The challenge with any new work is, “It always seems difficult, till it becomes easy”. That is the motivation I have applied in most of the work I have done.
Junior Explorers was a startup where the idea was to develop an entertaining game-based learning for kids between the age of 6-12 on topics related to animals, ecosystems and conservation. My challenge was to teach science using fun elements. Additionally, this was a subscription module where each month the subscriber received a new ‘adventure kit’ where they could learn something with the things they received at home and also take part in a virtual adventure online through a game. Because of the tight deadlines, the entire global team of writers, researchers, animators, designers, game developers, operations and logistics based out of four countries had to be highly efficient and work in a coordinated manner to deliver the next month’s online and offline adventure in time. As the process began at my end where I conceptualized these products, I needed to be highly disciplined, focused and creative in my science-writing skills, all at the same time! It wasn’t just writing, but understanding what to write, how to translate it into a comic with characters and also an online game while keeping the science learning intact – a real balancing act. I was also involved in the content marketing aspect of the product which required focusing on the unique selling points and establishing ourselves in the market. From creating the product to making it reach the right audience through my words, all my writing skills were tested during this time, and the reward was the worldwide recognition and accolades we received.
Where do you work now? Tell us what you do?
I have been running India’s Endangered for the last ten years. It has grown into a go-to website for people interested in news, views and information about endangered wildlife of India. It has been awarded twice as the best website of India in the wildlife category.
I am also a content marketeer working with companies to help build their brands. I freelance for a number of Indian and International publications like Deccan Herald, The Revelator, The Wire, Down to Earth, The Stacker and more, writing on topics related to the environment and wildlife. Being a freelancer gives me the advantage to work on a variety of topics, at my own pace while also giving time for my website.
As a science and environment writer, it is important to keep abreast of all the latest happenings in the field. My typical day begins by reading news, research and articles related to it. If I am working on an article, most of my time is spent in researching about different angles of that story, and getting my facts right, which is crucial especially in science writing. The writing part becomes easy when the homework of reading and researching has been done well.
I love the fact that what I write can effectively change someone’s perception about a subject, or help someone learn a new thing. It is this sense of doing good, that helps me keep working on pertinent issues related to the environment.
How does your work benefit society?
My work on my online portal has broadened the reader’s knowledge about many rare, threatened and endangered species of India that they did not know about. From the Gooty Tarantula, to the Great Indian Bustard, these species are getting the recognition they deserve instead of fighting an extinction battle remaining invisible. I hope the site continues to encourage readers to learn about and work on the conservation of these species.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
I started my website on my own, with little to no background on website designing or if I could sustain it for long. The fact that it now has global readership, a bunch of writers other than me working on it, and is acknowledged by scientists and conservationists for its quality content, gives me the impetus to keep doing better every day. Small steps do help in taking big leaps!
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Never stop learning. The moment you think you know everything you will stop growing. Whether you’re 15 or 50, the key to becoming better at what you do, is to always have the instinct to learn and re-learn.
I want to continue my work in the environmental sector and make a difference with my writing.