I recently gave a career talk on Ecological Consultancy and thought it would make a good subject for a blog. I was asked about qualifications, backgrounds and experience. They are questions we get asked quite regularly so hopefully we can answer a few of them here.
Firstly, there are many roads into this career. As you may know from her book, How to Become an Ecological Consultant, Sue switched careers in her 40’s from being a nurse and a midwife. Our ecologists have come to us straight out of university, after a decade of conservation and from the certificate course.
What qualifications do I need to be an ecological consultant?
Let’s start with the academic qualifications first. Almost every consultancy will look for a degree in a relevant subject, such as biology, zoology, environmental science or ecology. This will let your employer know that you can think a project through and write a report. A scientific background is good, as ecology reports are laid out in a similar way to the reports you would produce in a degree.
What if you don’t have a degree? Or your degree is in something totally different? This will be harder as you will need to evidence your experience elsewhere. You may need to do some work experience or volunteering. This can also be a good way for you to find out more about consultancy and whether you like it enough to put in the hard work it’s going to ask of you!
Work experience can mean many things, from voluntary work to courses and events. It’s a list of your different relevant experiences. Much of it is likely to be voluntary, so you will need to decide how long you want to volunteer for, and you need to make sure that you are getting the most out of it. Working for a fantastic organisation, but only ever doing the filing is not going to be any help to you!
How to get work experience
Decide what you want out of your experience. Whether it’s a couple of days or a few months, you need to focus on what you want from it. You can read our blog post about this here.
With a consultancy
Every consultancy is different. Ask around. Find out what sort of jobs you can help them with and what you might get out of it too. You might help them collate all their species records to send to the local records centre and in between you will hopefully get out on a few surveys and learn what’s involved in the job.
Some consultancies have specialities, such as bat work or newts or habitat management. Find out what they do and what you can get involved in.
Every county will have some sort of wildlife group. There are plenty of bat groups, mammal groups, bird groups, the Wildlife Trusts, National Trust, and other organisations and charities big and small who will have volunteering opportunities. Some are big commitments, others might be ad hoc. Go along to meetings, chat to other members and join in. Some are far more active than others. As well as leaning from events, it’s a great way to meet people and can often open doors to other opportunities.
There are plenty of courses out there. Make sure, if you are paying for a course, that you attend one from someone reputable such as PTES, The Mammal Society, FSC and of course, Acorn Ecology who have been providing training courses for over 10 years. There are some free courses and events run by wildlife groups. Ask whether your local group runs these and how you can take part.
A question that comes up often is about driving. It is important to be able to drive to sites. Many sites are remote with no public transport. Plus, often you need to be there at unsociable times of day. If you don’t drive it isn’t always a problem, as many companies send ecologists out in pairs, but it does mean that you are always reliant on someone else. If you can learn to drive, than I would really recommend doing so. If you can’t drive for some reason then you will need to discuss this with potential employers.
Good computer skills are also very useful. Being out on surveys is great, but your survey notes will need typing up too. A good knowledge of Microsoft office is required. You could impress potential employers by doing a touch-typing course. There are plenty available on the internet. Something to keep you busy! Additional skills, such as qGIS or R-stats is always a bonus.
Being able to work long, strange hours, keep positive and motivated and remain professional at all times are all key personality traits. It can be a difficult job in that way. Whether you work with a big consultancy or a small one, you will need to keep going. Remember to look after yourself!
Acorn Ecology Certificate Course
10 years ago, Sue launched the Certificate Course to be a real alternative to a MSc. You will learn the key skills in courses run by experienced, practising ecologists and get careers advice too. By the time graduation comes along, it is always great to see how confident the students are in their abilities, and to hear about how many of them have already taken steps in their careers and been employed. Students who do the PLUS course and spend 4 weeks in one of the branches always benefit from the experience.
Even when you are an ecologist, there are always new things to learn. As you progress in your career you will start working towards and gaining your protected species licences, preparing mitigation and getting more specialised. Acorn Ecology runs a handful of advanced courses, looking at the development side of protected species, on the understanding that students are already experienced in survey techniques.
However you get there, we wish you luck embarking on your career as an ecologist. Give luck a helping hand and sign up for an Acorn Ecology training course!