A to Z of Ecology Q is for Qualifications

11 January 2016

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 January 11, 2016
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Ecology is a complex field that can take a lot of training and experience to get into. This post will give an overview that I hope will be useful for both those looking to hire an ecologist and young people considering ecology as a career.

  • Academic qualifications – an ecologist will normally have at least a BSc and increasingly an MSc in a relevant subject such as environmental studies, biology or even ecology itself. I have a BSc in Biological Sciences and an MSc in Habitat Management. These qualifications give me a broader understanding of the subject that makes it learning new specialisms easier.
  • Experience – one thing people new to the field are often surprised by is that ecology employers often ask for experience even in someone starting their first job. This can seem unfair but there are a few ways round it.
    • Volunteering – many wildlife charities such as local wildlife trusts offer opportunities to volunteer on ecological work and this can be a great way to gain experience, it doesn’t even need a big time commitment as it may be possible to fit volunteering around a course or job. I would offer two caveats to this though, first make sure you understand what you are volunteering for – handing out leaflets for a wildlife group is a great way to contribute but won’t help you learn specialist ecology skills. Second I strongly advocate only volunteering for a genuine charity or community group, no profit making company should rely on free labour.
    • Training schemes – if you are willing to commit more time many organisations offer graduate training schemes that allow you to work for six months to a year as an ecologist with structured on the job learning.
    • Seasonal work – although permanent work as an ecologist normally requires experience a lot of consultancies will take on recent graduates to help with surveys especially at busy time of year such as spring. I’ve used these kind of workers myself and hope to do so in future.
  • Licences – one of the key areas ecologists work in is with protected species where a licence is often required to work legally, I hold licences to work with great crested newts in England and Wales and dormice in Wales and have successfully applied for otter and badger licences for sites in the past. I also have excellent contacts with licenced bat workers who can be brought in if needed.
  • Professional Membership – membership of a professional organisation, normally the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management is an important standard for ecologists to reach. A full member will have several years’ experience and be committed to regular professional training and a code of conduct. As a full member since 2005 I can offer you the reassurance that I will meet professional standards.

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