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Postdoctorate Research Associate

Age: 37

Organisation: Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), University of Kent

Simon Tollington - Postdoctorate Research Associate


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

I decided to undertake a BSc in Wildlife Conservation at 25 years old after growing up being inspired by Gerald Durrell and David Attenborough and subsequently realising a long-held dream of visiting the Maasai Mara in Kenya.

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

I had no real experience in this sector before my undergraduate degree and actually had quite poor A-level results! I was fortunate enough to be accepted onto a BSc at Plymouth University. I have since been awarded an MSc and PhD.

How long have you been in your current role?

I have been a Postdoctoral Researcher at DICE for about a year now.

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

My key responsibilities vary hugely which is why I enjoy this position. I am currently coordinating a research grant to assess the impacts of the non-native Indian Ring-necked Parakeet in the UK and Europe. This involves collaborating and meeting with academics from a range of European countries to monitor the distribution and agricultural and social impacts of this alien species. I am also investigating the population genetics of the critically endangered Arabian leopard. This involves lab-work, extracting DNA from scat samples to derive individual DNA fingerprints. I occasionally lecture undergraduate and postgraduate students and have recently spent a week lecturing at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Academy in Jersey on ‘Managing Infectious Diseases in Conservation Programmes’. In addition to all this I continue to write papers from my PhD thesis and attend interesting conferences in places like New Zealand and Japan.

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

I think it is important to maintain an open mind when carrying out research. Quite often results are not what you expect! Patience, concentration, attention to detail and an objective disposition are required for laboratory work. The ability to stand back and consider the broader picture is essential in practical conservation management.

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

I get great satisfaction out of using my own experiences to teach others but I’m also continually learning myself. I find data analysis very rewarding; being set a problem and finding a solution or generating interesting results is very fulfilling. Lab-work can be frustrating, a small mistake can sometimes mean that a week’s work is wasted, but alternatively is very satisfying when everything goes to plan. Being able to travelling to different countries is definitely a bonus!

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

After finishing my BSc I volunteered for six months with the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation. I spent nearly two years there working on their endangered bird projects. This gave me valuable, practical conservation experience and as a result I was awarded a part-scholarship to study for an MSc in Evolution, Ecology and Conservation at Imperial College London. Whilst at Imperial I learned of an opportunity to return to Mauritius to undertake a PhD with the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) at the University of Kent. I completed my PhD on ‘Population Genetics and Immune Function of the Mauritius parakeet’ in 2012.

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

Get out there, do some volunteering and talk to everyone you meet whilst doing so.