Sasha Dodsworth is an ecologist with The Ecology Consultancy. Sasha has over 7 years experience developing and implementing mitigation measures for a range of protected species including reptiles, great crested newts, badgers, bats and riparian mammals. Sasha will be speaking about ecology and consultancy careers at our Life Sciences Careers Conference at the Royal Veterinary College on 22nd October 2014.
I have been an ecological consultant for nearly 8 years now and 90% of the time I love my job, though I will admit when it’s below 00C and I’m watching someone dig a hole I do give serious consideration to having a mid-life crisis, getting myself a tailored suit and living out the rest of my days in an office, hoarding stationary. That aside if you’re looking at this then you must be giving a passing thought to becoming an ecologist! I’d like to give you an idea what it’s like, and some tips on how to get into my line of work.
Ecology can be hard work. In the summer months the days are really long with a lot of early starts (sometimes a couple of hours before dawn) and late nights, and while some sites are stunning others are a supermarket in Dagenham. Also the pay isn’t overly great (let’s just say I won’t be retiring at 45). However it can be very rewarding and you do get to spend the majority of your time outside (though this can be a mixed blessing). As an ecological consultant I mainly work for developers Helping them to make sure that biodiversity doesn’t completely lose out to progress. Sometimes you get to turn a car park into a wild flower meadow.
The first step is deciding what type of ecologist you want to be. Do you want to be a generalist who knows a bit of everything? Or do you have a passion or interest in something in particular such as botany or bats? In my company we have a mixture of both types. I am predominately a protected species ecologist so I deal with the cute and cuddly, like dormice, or the cute and scaly, like reptiles. However, I do undertake a range of other types of work including botany surveys and impact assessments etc. So I guess I am a mixture of the two types of ecologist. If you’re not sure which category you fall into, I would recommend that you get as much experience of as many species and survey types as you can. Experience is no bad thing. The main thing we look for when we are hiring people is someone with enthusiasm.
It can be hard to get your foot in the door in this business so here are some tips to help;
- Get some practical experience: there are a number of charity and non-profit organizations, such as the Wildlife Trusts and Froglife that are often looking for a helping hand and most areas have local groups you can join such as the London Bat Group and the Kent Amphibian and Reptile Group. These groups can also be good for networking as most ecologists will be a member of one or the other.
- Get some training. There are loads of courses out there on a wide range of ecology related subjects and for varying budgets. Good places to look are the FSC, the wildlife trusts and CIEEM.
- Join a professional group. For some elements of ecology you have to prove you are suitably qualified to carry out a survey. Part of this is to be peer reviewed so become a member of an organisation such as CIEEM. Some companies will insist you are a member. I recommend you join when you are a student or graduate as it’s much cheaper.
- Be proactive. A number of the smaller consultancies will not advertise for the lower level positions so search the internet for companies and ring them up or send them your CV. Even if they don’t have any work going, most will keep your CV for the future.
- Be persistent. Ecology work is seasonal so you may have to do a couple of years as a summer field assistant until you get a full time job. Don’t take it personally – it happens to most of us.
- Be realistic. You are going to be starting at the bottom of the ladder so chances are you won’t be getting the most exciting surveys/sites to do at the beginning.
Sasha will be speaking about ecology and consultancy careers at our Life Sciences Careers Conference at the Royal Veterinary College on 22nd October 2014.