Chapter 1 – Three career paths in ecology
It is at this point that I would like to talk about the three different paths that you can take to build a career in ecology. It took me quite a while to realise that there are actually very different paths to take as an ecologist, and that the difference between them is not generally discussed much between ecologists when they’re starting out. I want to point it out now to make sure you decide which way you want to go before you go too far in one direction and find you have to back-pedal. All three are very enjoyable, but they differ in the type of challenge they offer, the level of intellectual involvement, maintenance of professional standards and, last but not least, they can differ vastly in salary potential.
Career path No. 1 – conservation
Conservation jobs are usually for charities and trusts, local authorities, government organisations, wildlife trusts, small conservation organisations, museums, zoos and campaigning groups. Jobs in this area can be found both here in the UK and abroad.
Reserves management is a common conservation career and often involves managing teams or work parties and as well as preparing management plans, monitoring wildlife and habitat change, talking to the public and holding events. Other conservation jobs such as lobbying, public awareness, managing teams of volunteers, working with schools or visitors to centres, may be more focussed on your people skills, your ability to speak publically, your negotiation skills, maybe even your command of foreign languages. Each post will have its own unique role and set of skills that you will need to fulfil. Pretty interesting work but unfortunately not usually well paid.
Career path No. 2 – academia
Academia is a well-established path you can take after your degree – there is a whole career structure waiting for you and you can pursue jobs literally anywhere in the world. Academics are the ones that do the research that helps everyone in ecology work effectively and make sure that the advice we give has a scientific foundation. They discover, through their research, what works and what doesn’t in terms of habitat and species management, population structure and much more. They also study species ecology and a myriad other things including all the genetics studies that have shed so much light on how species interact and their evolutionary history.
Career path No. 3 – ecological consultancy
Ecological consultants are paid by their clients, usually developers, to deliver advice on wildlife and conservation issues which they might have an impact on, usually while they are applying for planning permission or during a development. Projects that ecological consultants would be involved in range from minor barn alterations to new motorways – both would have to take account of their likely impact on wildlife and steps to mitigate impacts.
Ecological consultants are also heavily involved in major strategic projects such as the London Olympics, Severn barrage, wind farms, high speed rail links and the channel tunnel railway. The ecological surveys and mitigation projects can sometimes take many years to complete or resolve. Ecologists are also often involved in habitat creation and re-creation, ongoing site management and monitoring, mitigating for habitat loss and assessing environmental impacts of a project on the ecology of a site.”
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