Becoming a graduate ecologist: tips for students and graduates wanting to start a career in ecological consultancy.

By Sarah Miller, Graduate Ecologist at Ellendale Environmental

I find it strange that I am writing a blog about how to become an ecologist. It isn’t that long ago that I was wondering if it was possible for me to get a job in ecology. I studied tirelessly, completing an Undergraduate honours degree in Animal Biology and then a Masters in Wildlife Biology and Conservation at Edinburgh Napier University.  There were days when I thought it would never happen for me, especially after I had finished studying. I’m here to tell you that it can happen, it is possible! However, there are definitely some key things that helped me get the job I have today as a graduate ecologist with Ellendale Environmental. 

Appreciate the time you have to learn during your degree

Take every opportunity to learn and make sure your knowledge sticks in your head. Get out and practice what you learn.  If you have chosen a degree relevant to ecology you are likely to have to learn how to identify species, and yes, this is likely to include plants; learn to love them. After all some of them are fluffy and the great thing about plants is that they don’t move! Most importantly, having knowledge of plants could help land you a job. Enjoy your degree, have good attendance and take as much away from it as possible.

No opportunity is too small

Supplement what you learn through formal education with extracurricular activities. A few hours here and there adds up and can make you stand out in a pile of CV’s. Getting through university was a financial struggle for me. I was working up to 20 hours a week in a local Starbucks to help me through. This meant my free time was limited. However, I made sure I made use of the limited free time I had by volunteering and taking part in training days. The saying is true-hard work does pay off. I have added a few links to organisations which run training days or have volunteer surveys. However, this is not an exhaustive list and there is plenty to choose from. I have specified what I have attended because they have definitely helped me gain relevant experience and build confidence. They can also help you with your university assignments! Watch out for upcoming events.

TWIC: small mammal workshop

BSBI/PlantLife:  Identifying wildflower families and identifying grasses workshops

BTO: I do a breeding bird survey near Dalkeith. I have also been to a BTO bird identification course

Water of Leith Conservation trust: They often look for volunteers

RZSS: Edinburgh Zoo often run training days in the Budongo lecture theatre. I went to a Pollinator I.D course

Keep your experience relevant

I know I have just told you that no opportunity is too small but bear with me. Experts have mentioned that the type of experience candidates have really matters. Don’t spend a fortune travelling to exotic places to survey animals and plants unless you want to apply for a job in that location. Make sure you also spend time in the country where you want to work; learning floral/faunal species and environmental legislation. If you are struggling with money and time then don’t worry, just do what you can. Employers will recognise someone who is passionate and putting the effort in.

Remember to remember

One last thing I would recommend is to keep a note of what you do, the date you did it and the organisations you did the activity with. It comes in useful when you are applying for jobs or writing a CV. Some companies also like you to quantify your experience. For example, saying you have X amount of days experience doing X surveys. It will make your life much easier if you can just look at a excel worksheet or a notebook to remember what you have done. I also found it quite motivating as my list got longer!

Don’t lose hope, don’t give up, show enthusiasm and eventually your time will come. Good luck!

Stewart Parsons