What is an Ecologist?
They advise decision making bodies like governments and charities on the best way to sustain harmony between humans and the natural world.
What is an Ecologist?
Ecologists are responsible for ensuring the relationship between human life and natural ecosystems is sustainable. They’ll closely monitor the health of animal species and habitats, spotting any concerns and advising on the best ways to sustain them. This could be advocating against deforestation, assessing whether human pollution is affecting an animal population, or protecting marine life from human waste.
You’ll usually specialise in a particular area of preservation like marine, desert, or woodland life. You could cover animal and plant life, or both. Your work will usually involve using your detailed knowledge of ecosystems to monitor their health, assessing samples and passing on any actions to decision making bodies.
The tasks you carry out on a regular basis depend on your specialism. There are some common duties across most areas, such as:
As an ecologist, you can work in a variety of different sectors, and for different employers.
- Advise private companies such as construction firms on the sustainability of their plans, and how this could affect wildlife.
- Carrying out preservation activities like protecting endangered plant or animal life.
- Contribute to governmental and charitable policies and legislation on a consultancy basis.
- Deliver presentations to stakeholders about actions that need to be carried out to sustain life.
- Give lectures at university level on relevant degree courses.
- Make predictions about what human interaction could do to certain ecosystems.
- Taking surveys of ecosystems, assessing what lives there and the health of the environment.
- Write formal papers around your findings to promote sustainable living in humans.
As an ecologist, you can work in a variety of different sectors, and for different employers. The salary range to expect will depend on where you work.
Initially, an ecologist salary starts between £22,000 - £42,000. The range will depend on what company you work for, such as a charity or wildlife foundation, as well as how senior the position is. An ecologist assistant salary will be lower than a senior ecologist salary or a principal ecologist, for example.
Your degree study should provide you with the necessary skills to carry out field work and research.
Many ecologists use their substantial field work experience to teach at university level. If you go down this route, you could achieve salaries of £40,000 - £90,000 depending on how senior your position is.
Ecology is largely a graduate profession. To access graduate ecologist jobs, you’ll need to study an undergraduate degree first. This could be an ecologist degree, or a broader science subject. Some graduates begin with a more broad science degree and then take on masters level study to specialise. Whether you choose undergraduate or postgraduate study, your subject needs to cover animal and plant biology, and have a clear scientific focus.
If you’d like to eventually teach at university level, or you plan to work towards research-heavy ecology jobs, you’ll likely need postgraduate study at a doctoral level (PhD). This can cover a variety of different disciplines, but when you study you’ll focus specifically on one area of interest.
Training and development
Your degree study should provide you with the necessary skills to carry out field work and research. You’ll learn a great deal as you work, though, especially if you’re working in field areas that weren’t included as part of your degree.
A background of volunteering will stand you in good stead when applying for degree level courses.
You can also take practical courses for your continuing professional development (CPD) offered by professional bodies. Examples include the Chartered Institute of of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), Institute of Environmental Assessment (IEA), and the Field Studies Council (FSC). CIEEM membership and membership of other professional bodies will give you access to seminars and conferences, as will non profits and non governmental organisations such as The Wildlife Trust.
The knowledge and skills gathered from your degree study are vital in making you a good candidate for ecologist jobs. These include:
- A robust knowledge of the habitats you work in, whether that be oceans, woodlands or even your local area.
- A good mathematical understanding for field work calculations.
- Ability to liaise with stakeholders - you’ll be sharing your findings with stakeholders of various organisations, from charities to government bodies.
- Ability work in a team with colleagues and stakeholders.
- An understanding of sustainability measures and how to apply these in practice.
- Confidence with relevant software, and an ability to pick up new technologies quickly.
- Excellent attention to detail - you could be working with microscopic life within a wider organism.
- Excellent command of written English - you’ll likely write academic papers and aim to get them published to forward your career.
- Good verbal communication skills - this is particularly relevant if you plan to teach, as you’ll need to deliver high level thinking to various audiences.
- Management skills, especially if you oversee a team of volunteers.
- Research skills - your work will be informed by up to date research, and you’ll be expected to contribute to knowledge in the field.
A background of volunteering will stand you in good stead when applying for degree level courses. There are plenty of opportunities to build on your understanding of ecology, so it’s worth thinking about what your particular interests are and seeking out opportunities early on. The key to volunteering is building up a good knowledge base, and an awareness of the typical practices of a qualified ecologist.
If you are still at school or college, reach out to your science and geography teachers to see if there are any conservation trips that you could take advantage of. These are usually residential trips as part of a wider organisation, such as The Wildlife Trust.
Ecologists are responsible for ensuring the relationship between human life and natural ecosystems is sustainable.
There are various bodies you can reach out to in order to offer your volunteering services. Voluntary work is a well established part of ecology work, so you’re likely to find specific programs to organise volunteers. You might like to look at organisations like The National Trust, or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, to learn about how you can take part in voluntary work.
Ecologists are important figures in the global community. They are vital for sustaining life as we know it, so career prospects are good. Many experienced ecologists work as freelance ecologists for multiple companies, taking ecological consultant jobs.
You could start in your ecology career working for a local authority or charity as a junior ecologist. You could then build your way up to more senior positions, overseeing particular areas of conservation, such as zoologist jobs, or marine ecology jobs. You might specialise in particular areas of study, such as endangered species.
Many graduates take on further academic study to deepen their knowledge, such as masters or doctoral degrees. These can be completed alongside your work, or you might take time out of employment to study. Some masters and doctoral students are sponsored by their employer, or apply for funding to study. This might involve studying a specific area designated by the teaching university.