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Career guidance: Specialising and how to do it

Have you just started out on your ecology path? Perhaps you already have a job as a Trainee Ecologist or Assistant Ecologist, or a couple of seasons of experience under your belt. It is always a good idea to assess your progress at least annually and see what gaps you have in your knowledge.

great crested newt, ecology coursesIt might be a few years down the line until you are a specialist, but it’s worth considering it now, at this early stage in your career, so you can get the groundwork in.  Eventually you will find yourself becoming an expert in a certain area or several areas anyway, driven by your own interests or the major workload of your consultancy. Most teams have a range of specialists in their ranks. So how do you choose one and work towards it?

A good starting point for developing a specialism is to ask yourself ‘what am I really interested in?’ The next question should be ‘is that specialism good for my career? The bulk of consultancy work is with mammals, reptiles, plants, birds, or more specifically bats, badgers, dormice and great crested newts. Specialising in a protected species, or protected group of species, is going to be most beneficial for your career.

In this blog we’ve taken another extract from Sue Searle’s book – How to Become an Ecological Consultant. There is a whole chapter on specialising. Here’s the introduction:

Chapter 10 – Specialising

Although you will probably need to have a go at a bit of everything when you first start, eventually one wildlife subject will catch your interest and you will want to take it further. Many ecological consultants develop a specialism that is the focus of much of their career.

How to become an ecological consultant, by Susan M Searle BSc PGDip MCIEEM (paperback book)Developing a specialism might be a bit beyond the scope of this book, but, as we have just been thinking about goal setting, it makes sense to start thinking about specialising at the beginning of your career. This will help ensure that you will achieve everything you aim for. As long as you are aiming for it, planning it and consistently taking small steps towards it, you can eventually achieve anything you desire.

Some consultants specialise in a certain group of species, such as bats, and can make a comfortable living. However, to work in more diverse environments with a wider range of clients, and even to have a more interesting working life, I think it is good to have general expertise in many fields as well as an in-depth specialism in one thing in particular. In a team it works particularly well to have different specialist areas represented. I advise you avoid specialising too soon though – for instance I know a bat worker who knows no plants. She has always worked only on bats. This concerns me as she may not be able to recognise if she is in an ancient woodland (she cannot identify ancient woodland indicator plants), or even what species of trees are present, and this could be relevant for considering which species of bat may be present and describing the woodland itself for a report. For this reason I think getting a good general grounding to start with is essential. Become an ecologist with experience across species groups when you start out and specialise later.

Book available HERE

It’s difficult to be a really good ecologist if you only know about one thing. So, as a junior you should work on having a good base knowledge of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. With this grounding your specialism may naturally emerge. You might already be passionate about a species or species group, if so, great! Keep learning and gaining experience and in no time you will become an expert.

How can you do this?

Courses are a great way to kick start a new passion or gain skills and knowledge fast so that should be your starting point. Also attend talks, field trips, conferences and seminars, and join local groups – bats, birds, mammals, herps etc. Take an interest in everything ecological and immerse yourself! Wildlife is a lifelong fascination and passion.

Once the spark of a passion is ignited you will progress fast because you are interested, fascinated, motivated and moved to know more.

Here are a few of the courses we think are really important for specialising:

Surveying Trees for Bats – Bristol – 29th March 2019

Badger Ecology and Surveying – Guildford – Date TBC

Dormouse Ecology and Surveying – Exeter – 3rd May 2019

Otter Ecology and Surveying – Exeter – 23rd April 2019

Reptile Surveying and Handling – Exeter – 29th April 2019

You can find details of all these courses HERE.

If you have any questions about our courses, please get in touch with our team, who are happy to answer your questions. Call us today on 01392366512.

Acorn Ecology course view

How to make Volunteering work for you

Acorn Ecology Online CourseVolunteering is a particularly valuable way to gain experience to prepare for a career in ecology. However, a word of caution, it may be easy to find a volunteering job but make sure it works for you and your objectives. It is no good working for a wildlife organisation when you are only stuffing envelopes! As a volunteer you need to focus on the results you want to achieve. For consultancy you really need to be getting involved in surveying and developing field skills.

You can use your spare time wisely and enjoy yourself too! If you are still at University really focus on the time you have off to get some valuable experience under your belt rather than just working or doing nothing. It is amazing how much experience you can accrue in your free time.Acorn ecology field work

Your time is precious and you must be sure that the volunteering is giving YOU something in return. Good organisations to get in touch with are local Wildlife Trusts, Bat Groups, Amphibian and Reptile Groups, National Trust, RSPB, British Trust for Ornithology groups, and any other local wildlife groups. Not only do you get the opportunity to get some valuable experience and help the conservation effort in your local area but also you are in a key place to meet other like-minded people and people of influence. This will come in handy when you are looking for jobs – there is that old saying ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ The conservation world is a small world!

Acorn Ecology course viewIdentify your objectives for the volunteering – is it to increase knowledge, gain a new skill or make new contacts?

You can also make up your own volunteering. For example, offer to do a wildlife survey of a local site for the landowner, or maybe contact local ecological consultancies and offer to lend a hand. Here at Acorn Ecology we have interns here most of the year and now we have two new branches we have capacity for many more!

Try not to see volunteering as just ‘working for nothing’ but as a valuable free way to get some much needed experience. Many people find this is the only route into ecology coupled with training courses.

You could take a training course and bring a skill to your volunteering. For example, many consultancies need help with bat sound analysis over the year. Why not do our introduction to bat sound analysis course, then volunteer your skill to a consultancy and keep learning? After a while you’ll be great at it and it’s a brilliant skill to have on your CV!

Need some help starting on that site survey for a local landowner or charity group? A Phase 1 survey might be just the thing. We run a Phase 1 habitat survey course from all our branches. Learn the technique with us and then put it into practice by volunteering. They will be getting a survey for free, and think about the identification skills and confidence YOU will be gaining from it!

For more hints and tips on getting into Ecological Consultancy as a career why not read ‘How to become and ecological consultant’ by Sue Searle, Principal Ecologist at Acorn Ecology Ltd.

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Set Your Goals – Part 2

A couple of weeks ago we posted a blog about starting your training – setting your goals and making plans. How are you finding it? Here at Acorn Ecology we know how hard it can be starting out on your career as an ecologist. There’s just so much to learn and so much to do. It never feels as though there’s enough time to do everything! Be focussed. Know what you want to achieve. Set your goals for this week and for 5 years time. You may find this extract from Sue’s book, How to be an Ecological Consultant useful:

Make a plan

Most people do not have much of a plan for their careers. In fact it is said that people spend longer planning their holidays than their lives, longer planning the birth than the childhood, and longer planning the wedding than the marriage!

Where do you want to be in 10 years? For example – running your own consultancy could be your 10 year goal. Then a 5 year goal, to get to that 10 year goal, might be – senior ecologist specialising in bats and badgers. Write it down. Starting with the end in mind makes you far more focused.  Once you have a clear picture of your destination your journey is much more rapid and directional, you can then start to plan and achieve the steps to getting there – it is like going on a car journey, knowing where you are going and taking a map. Without a destination in mind you would not even know which way to turn out of the drive!  As we have already discussed in the CPD section*, you can now plan your training each year to align to your long-term goals.

I have a technique for planning the various aspects of my life and since I have been using it I have achieved 100 times more than before and have become totally focused on achieving those goals.

Start by writing down your 5 year goal and then write down your assumptions and where you are right now.  Then start to work out where you will need to be in 4 years, 3 years, 2 years, 1 year, 9 months and 6 months. Finally write down what you need to do in the next 3 months to start getting you to that end goal. Although your 5 year goal may seem massive and difficult to achieve, you simply need to take small steps consistently over time in the right direction to achieve your goal. Set the goal, plan the steps, then work the plan by taking action.

*CPD is continued professional development. There is always more to learn in ecology and you will continue learning through your career.

Sue’s book is available to buy from us. Email us on training@acornecology.co.uk or call us on 01392 366512 to order.

Acorn Ecology Training Courses, ecology trainingHere are some tips to setting goals:

  1. Be specific. Vague goals are hard to stick to.
  2. Be able to track your progress and make sure you monitor it!
  3. Make your goals achievable (aim high, but not out of reach).
  4. Give yourself a time limit and stick to it!

Make your goals manageable, measureable, and achievable. You can check yourself every few weeks to see if you’re on course. You’ll be there before you know it.

How can Acorn Ecology help?

Whatever your goal, one of our courses can help you achieve it. We have a large range of courses on all aspects of ecology, whether you need to up your survey skills, or your reporting skills. Have you identified that gap in your knowledge? What can you do this week to get on your way?

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Trainees at work – your first job

Testimonials from our students at Acorn Ecology TrainingAs a trainee you are likely to get the time-consuming surveys such as reptile surveys, newt surveys and bat activity surveys (after training of course). If you have a problem with reptiles – snakes in particular – you may need to get yourself desensitised by just doing it and getting experience, or having a re-think.  Could you catch an adder?

We run a reptile surveying and handling course that has cured many of snake phobia – it’s amazing how quickly something scary becomes routine after you’ve done it a few times. These surveys often require basic skills and don’t require licences but give you the feeling that you are learning a new skill, doing something useful and generating income for the practice. For the senior staff it means that they can concentrate on more complex tasks or projects.

Hopefully you will also be given the opportunity to go out with more senior consultants and will quickly pick up information and experience that will stand you in good stead for developing your career.  Obviously if you are interested, enthusiastic and willing to put in some time to do background reading you will get a lot more from this experience than if you just do the minimum and don’t ask your colleagues questions.

Don’t forget that you MUST spend as much time as possible developing your identification skills (particularly botany) – colleagues can help but in the end this information has to go into your head and only you can put it there. This is where some personal effort and dedication will pay real dividends.

You will often be taken out on surveys just for health and safety cover. For example bat work at night, working around water, or maybe to help carry equipment. This is an excellent time to chat to your colleagues and find out about how they developed their career, ask any questions about the survey method, what you are finding, what they might advise and any other burning questions you have.

If you are working for a big consultancy you may be required to travel a lot too, again a good time to talk to a colleague.  Maybe discuss the legal aspects of findings and what advice will be given. Getting to grips with the legal side of our advice is one of the most difficult things to master and takes time.

We have developed templates for our survey reports and this ensures a consistent product and also saves time. In your first job you may be asked to complete simple reports at first and gradually do more and more complicated ones.  Good drawing and IT skills are useful as most reports have some sort of sketch map or you may need diagrams of mitigation suggestions. New trainees often start by doing the map and preparing a results table to go into the report. Some ability to use a digital camera, download photos and re-size them helps as most reports also include photos.

As you gain more experience, under the guidance of your senior colleagues, and backed up with your own studies, you will soon be able to tackle more varied tasks.  Remember your senior staff should want you to gain as much experience as possible – you will then be far more useful!

The great thing about this career is that there is always something new to learn!

You might find it useful to read CIEEM’s student documents at: http://www.cieem.net/students-careers

Excerpt fromHow to Become and Ecological Consultant by Sue Searle BSc, PGDip, MCIEEM available from our shop

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Three Career Paths in Ecology

How to become an ecological consultant, by Susan M Searle BSc PGDip MCIEEMSue Searle, our Senior Ecologist, has written a book ‘How to become an ecological consultant’ and we will be producing some blogs with excerpts from the book.

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

Booking a Course at Acorn Ecology Training is Easy!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

Academic Study of EcologyAcademia 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

Ecologists on Development Sites

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.”

If you are thinking of pursuing a career in ecological consultancy then why not order your own copy of the book? Only £10!  If you are ordering outside the UK then please order from Amazon.com.

You can order a copy from our shop