Ecologists are specialist scientists who survey ecosystems and assess the diversity, profusion and behaviour of the different organisms within them.
These guys tend to work for government agencies, environmental trusts, conservation charities and research institutes.
As an ecologist, you will spend a large amount of your time out in the field, conducting scientific investigations, classifying plants, animals and other organisms, and recording the data that you accumulate.
Once you have conducted surveys using state-of-the art equipment, such as geographical information systems (GIS), you will spend your time in a laboratory or office analysing, evaluating and unravelling the data that you have collected.
You will then be tasked with presenting the data in a concise and accessible manner. You will use the reports you write to influence environmental policy and offer expert advice to engineers, architects, town planners and members of the public.
Part of your role might also involve educating local communities about environmental issues and ecosystems in their area.
Salary & benefits
Entry-level ecologists tend to earn between £17,000 and £22,000 per annum. Senior ecologists can earn anywhere between £23,000 and £42,000 a year.
Ecologists’ working hours tend to fluctuate depending on the nature of the work being carried out. For instance, if you’re working out in the field, your schedule will be determined by the seasons and the specific ecosystems that you are investigating. However, if you’re working in a laboratory or an office, you will enjoy a much more consistent daytime working schedule.
Ecologists tend to spend a lot of their time working outdoors in all kinds of weather. Consequently, investing in a decent raincoat is a good idea. After all, a little bit of drizzle shouldn’t stop you from fulfilling your duties.
To enter this line of work, you will need an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in a relevant subject, such as ecology, biology, botanical sciences, marine biology, zoology, geography or environmental management.
This is a competitive area of work and, therefore, a relevant postgraduate qualification may enhance your chances of securing an entry-level position.
Another way to boost your employability is volunteering with an environmental organisation (globalrecycle.net). This will give you fantastic hands-on experience and enable you to build up a network of useful contacts.
Training & progression
The majority of your training will be done whilst on the job. However, you may occasionally be required to attend training courses run by external organisations, such as the Field Studies Council, to keep up-to-date with all the latest surveying techniques.
Some ecologists with a wealth of experience and excellent academic credentials can eventually become chartered environmentalists, courtesy of the Society for the Environment. This can be a great addition to one’s CV for the purposes of career progression.
If you work for a large organisation, you may eventually be given the opportunity to progress into a senior ecologist position. However, this may mean taking a step back from hands-on scientific investigation work and focusing your efforts more on project management and team leading responsibilities.
Freelance consultancy work is another viable option.