|Rooting for a Career in Ecology?
Agriculture, biology, botany, zoology, geography, geology, environmental science - ecologists come from a wide range of backgrounds, because ecology is such a multidisciplinary subject. And similarly, ecologists can be found in an even wider variety of professions, from research and teaching to government, business and consultancy. But whatever your starting point, a postgraduate course in ecology is the next step.
Competition for employment in ecology is intense and the profession demands high levels of commitment, but the rewards that come from a career in ecology provide great job satisfaction. So, what makes a good ecologist?
According to the British Ecological Society - the learned society that represents ecologists in the UK and abroad - ecologists are fascinated by plants and animals, and can communicate that enthusiasm to others. They enjoy fieldwork, have a thorough knowledge of the way in which natural ecosystems work, and have expertise in one or more groups of living organisms. Additionally, they have good qualifications in biological or environmental subjects.
Postgraduate Ecology Courses
Many UK universities offer postgraduate courses in ecology and related subjects (see below for more details), and these are attractive to international students because they cover a broad range of subjects, including economics and global issues. The University of York’s Environment Department, for example, offers six postgraduate options, including a diploma or Master of Science (MSc) in environmental economics and environmental management, as well as Master of Research and PhD programmes.
The University of York’s MSc in environmental economics has been developed in response to a growing demand by economists for specialist qualifications. The degree includes both the economics of pollution and the economics of depletion. According to the university: “The skills developed in the graduate programme are both local and global. The department places great emphasis on international environmental issues in general, and the problem of environment-development linkages in less developed countries in particular.”
Courses like those at York, and ecology courses elsewhere in the UK, prepare postgraduates for a wide range of jobs. A recent survey of the 5,000 members of the British Ecological Society found that 40% of ecologists work in further or higher education, 29% in research, 10% in conservation, 4% in agriculture and forestry, 2% each in planning, school teaching and consultancy, and 10% in other jobs.
Ecologists can be found in many different jobs in most sectors of the economy. Environmental consultancy has expanded significantly in recent years, largely because of the growth and complexity of national and international environmental protection laws. Environmental consultants often need good taxonomy skills - that is, they need to be able to identify a range of plants and animals - because they often work assessing the impact of industrial development or road building on flora and fauna. These consultants work for all sorts of employers - from international organisations and governments, to multinational companies and small firms.
Government and Industry
Environmental legislation has also increased demand for ecologists in government bodies and throughout industry. Work within government ranges from practical countryside management - being out and about running nature reserves and parks - to doing fieldwork or providing advice to government, farmers and the public. Environmental law means that a wide variety of businesses also need to call on ecologists, to work on civil engineering or restoration projects, for example.
As with professionals who work in other varied fields, ecologists prove that variety is the spice of life. As the renowned conservationist Professor David Bellamy says: “Ecology as a career? Well, at least you will never be alone, for wherever you find yourself, you will always be affecting the local ecosystem. Ecologists are surrounded by insurmountable opportunities - lots of ecosystems with lots of problems, which only people well trained in ecology can solve.”
A booklet on careers in ecology, ‘Rooting for a career in ecology or environmental management?’ published by the British Ecological Society and the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management is available from the British Ecological Society, 26 Blades Court, Deodar Road, London SW15 2NU, UK, tel: +44 (0)20 8871 9797, fax: +44 (0)20 8871 9779, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or on the web at www.demon.co.uk/bes. Please provide a self-addressed A4 envelope with stamps to the value of 75p if you wish a copy to be mailed to you.
Selected postgraduate courses in ecology at UK universities:
Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine: www.ic.ac.uk
University of Lancaster: www.lancs.ac.uk
University of York: www.york.ac.uk
University of Sheffield: www.shef.ac.uk
Useful web sites:
British Ecological Society: www.demon.co.uk/bes
Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management: www.ieem.org.uk
Environment Council: www.the-environment-council.org.uk
Council for Environmental Education: www.cee.org.uk
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology: www.ceh-nerc.ac.uk
With thanks to
Press Officer, British Ecological Society