Archive for May, 2010
Having been working in this field for a considerable time, and being in the position of recruiting and managing ecologists, I frequently have cause to reflect on the ecologist’s role, and what makes a good (and bad) ecologist. Needless to say, all WFE’s staff are of the highest calibre, and exhibit all of the qualities required for success(!). Here are a digest of some of these reflections.
In short, a good ecologist needs to be a jack-of-all-trades. Aside from the basics – high levels of literacy and numeracy, commitment and passion, all sorts of bizarre secondary skills can be required to see through a job from start to finish: metalworker, hydrological engineer, graphic designer, motor mechanic, statistician, caterer, accountant, negotiator, labourer, animal handler, geographer, legal adviser and explorer – all fall under the ecologist’s umbrella. The old stereotype of a dry, strictly scientific existence are belied by the reality of the world of work.
That is not to say that many of the places one finds oneself in are anything too glamorous – the distinctly spooky burnt out cellars of an old maltings, the most degraded arable wastes, open miles of beach shingle, semi-detached lofts, polluted balancing ponds and supermarket car parks – all are worktime hangouts for the jobbing ecologist.
The sheer variety of challenges that are encountered are certainly a major attraction of the job. I have experienced months where I have been involved in all of the following one after the other: vegetation surveys on exposed tops of the Yorkshire Dales, writing detailed reports on bird populations in lowland farmland, catching reptiles in Kent, locating and labelling veteran trees in Norfolk and doing topographic surveys in the Broads. And that is on top of juggling several subconsultants, trying to keep the money coming in and the ageing vehicle running. And it’s not just me – virtually every ecologist I know is presented with a similar array of challenges.
Excelling at multi-tasking and conceptual ball juggling are not the only demands – a keen observational faculty, attention to detail, a steady hand, consistency, clear thinking and physical stamina all play their part. It’s not easy being green. The upside is a hugely rewarding and fulfilling job, and many of us I believe feel that we are “living the dream”.
For those people starting on a career in ecology, the advice is clear – you made the right choice, stick with it and don’t give up! Times are tough, and our profession as well as many others has been quite deeply affected, but we will always be needed, and I am very optimistic for the future. Go get em!