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Ecologist (Consultant)

Age: 26

Organisation: Ove Arup & Partners Ltd

Why did you decide on a career in ecology/environmental management, and when did you decide?

As far as academia was concerned, I was very fortunate to be encouraged by my parents to pursue learning for the love of a subject, rather than pursue subjects for the sake of a particular career. Although my first love was for maths (I know!), it was quite a lonely subject and it seemed like a natural choice for me to study biology at University.  After my first year of University, I had the opportunity to specialise.  I chose ecology because it was the most interesting of the options presented to me, without a real idea of where this might lead me career-wise. It was only in my third year of University, when people started thinking about the ‘next step’ that I realised that a career in ecology was a viable option, and that it was also what I wanted…actually quite badly!

How did you get started in the sector?  What qualifications and experience did you have? Have you gained any additional qualifications since?

I had a BSc in Ecology from Durham University and had undertaken a variety of voluntary work throughout school, sixth form and University and continued to volunteer on graduating. I had spent quite a bit of time deciding whether to undertake a Master’s, but following advice from people in the sector, I decided that perhaps a significant amount of targeted voluntary work would give me the practical experience I was looking for. I graduated in 2008, just as the recession hit, and the number of jobs available dropped significantly, so experience seemed like a sensible option, to demonstrate to potential employers that I was serious.

I volunteered for my local record centre which gave me a good appreciation of designated sites and protected species, and practical experience of using GIS. To complement this, I also volunteered two days a week for my local Wildlife Trust, undertaking practical habitat management tasks. For this, I was rewarded with training and experience in bat surveys and newt surveys; very valuable for someone looking for a career in consultancy.

After 4 months of solid volunteering, I was offered a six month internship with what is now CIEEM, helping publish the Competencies for Species Survey Series, and co-ordinate the review of the EcIA guidelines.  Working for CIEEM (whilst continuing to volunteer in my spare time) gave me great insight into the variety of careers available in the sector and allowed me to meet some great people with great advice. From there I went on to work for Arup, and suddenly found myself ‘with a career in the sector’.

Arup are currently supporting my studies for the ‘Certificate in Biological Recording and Species Identification’, run out of Manchester Metropolitan University. This is furthering the technical skills I have learned from colleagues and ‘on the job’ experience at Arup.

How long have you been in your current role?

I have worked for Arup for three years come September 2014.

What does a typical day involve? What are your responsibilities?

My typical week involves about three days a week of varied fieldwork, on a variety of projects. Often I lead the fieldwork, but I love to survey with colleagues with particular specialisms, so that I can continue to learn. Sometimes I also work as an ecological clerk of works on a construction site, supervising a variety of activities.

When I’m in the office I help manage projects, plan the surveys for the year, resource the surveys, collate and analyse the data and write the subsequent reports, including recommendations. This involves meetings with colleagues from other disciplines, project managers and with clients, to discuss their needs, our progress on a particular project or provide advice. 

What do you think are the most important skills for someone in your role to have? 

It was only when I started working that I realised the ‘transferable’ skills I was continually lectured about throughout my education (and had thus-far taken for granted) are actually the most important skills of all. Being able to communicate both verbally and in the written form, listen, work in a team, organise yourself, adapt and make decisions and are key to success in most roles, and my role is no different. Technical field skills are important too of course, but these are things you can learn more easily through courses and on the job training and experience.

Describe the aspects of your job you find particularly rewarding and those you find challenging

Being out in the field on a sunny day finding things that many people aren’t even aware exist, is one of the feelings which makes me love my job. I also love the feeling you get when months or years of hard work and effort have come together, and you manage to achieve a particular result you were aiming for.

The most challenging aspect of my job is managing to fit everything I want to do on all the interesting projects we work on, into the time I have available.

Describe your career progression so far and any plans you have for the future

When my time with CIEEM ended, I was offered a job with Arup, and have been working here as an ecologist for the past three years. I continue to volunteer in my spare time, and attend as many training events and conferences as possible. I am a member of the CIEEM West Midlands Section Committee, helping organise events in the West Midlands, and also contribute to the CIEEM ‘Diversity Working Group’ and the CIEEM ‘Ecological Report Writing Working Group’.

As far as future plans are concerned, I plan to continue to learn and develop my skills, knowledge and experience wherever possible, and make the most of all the opportunities that come my way.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone seeking a career in the sector?

Speak to as many people in the profession as possible, find out what they have done and ask for their opinions and help.  Most people will remember how daunting it can be to try and find a career in the sector, and will want to help a driven and enthusiastic person just starting out, just as other people may have helped them when they started out.

It’s a relatively small world and you will come across the same people again and again throughout your career, with a lot of jobs filled through word of mouth and speculative applications, so talking to people is invaluable.