Want a career in ecology?
As a professional ecologist and botanist, and a trained teacher, I often get asked for advice on ecology careers. Training is a major part of my freelance work, and I teach undergraduates and postgraduates at Newcastle University. I also sit on the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management’s (IEEM) working group on the ecology skills gap, a project addressing the fact that many biology and ecology degree courses do not train students in the vocational skills that employers are looking for.
Working in nature conservation is extremely competitive. There are currently more opportunities in commercial ecological consultancies, working mainly for the corporate sector (such as property developers, wind energy companies etc), but also for local authorities and government agencies. To maximise your opportunities during your early career, you will need to be prepared to develop your CV by volunteering and to move around the country for work.
Top tips for careers in ecology
What is your summer project about? If you want a job in the UK ecology sector, make sure you do a project on British or Irish habitats and /or species! Although the large ecological consultancies do require ecologists to conduct survey work abroad, this is generally in Europe or North America. If you do a project on African or Asian ecology, expect to work for organizations who work in Africa or Asia, such as universities or international charities. You will not be attractive to the British conservation sector or commercial consultancies.
Build up the evidence for your skills by volunteering. You need to make time to do this at weekends; it is at least worth as much as a high grade degree, arguably more. There are plenty of first class honours graduates without jobs because they have not got any work experience. You need to show that you have the skills listed in IEEM’s booklet ‘what every graduate should know’ which is available from http://www.ieem.org.uk/
Botany – by which I mean plant identification and survey skills – is in demand. Consultancies are very short of young graduates who are proficient botanists. Join BSBI, attend their field meetings and put this on your CV. No one expects you to be an expert overnight; but you do need to show a serious commitment to improving your field identification skills and going on BSBI meetings demonstrates this. BSBI also offer a one day test and a certificate, called a Field Skills Identification Qualification or FISQ, to evidence how good a botanist you really are, which also looks good on your CV. See http://www.bsbi.org.uk/html/field_skills.html
Whether you plan to be a mammal ecologist, entomologist or an ornithologist, all commercial consultancies need graduates who can do a Phase 1 habitat survey. Find out about this by reading the survey handbook (it’s amazing how many interview candidtates don’t do this!); go on a short course (The Field Studies Council http://www.field-studies-council.org/ and IEEM www.ieem.net both run Phase 1 habitat survey courses); do a voluntary Phase 1 survey for your local Wildlife Trust to prove to employers that you can really do it!
Be careful when you choose an MSc course. Having an MSc will not assist you in finding a job if you still have little or no work experience. Look for an MSc that has a strong vocational element: training in ecological survey methods combined with business skills, like project management and negotiation skills, which you will need in the workplace.
Labels: ecology careers