Careers in Ecology & Biodiversity: What can you do to progress your career?

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Logo: British Ecological Society

By Amy Padfield, Senior Education and Engagement Manager, at the British Ecological Society

Amy Padfield (British Ecological Society)
(British Ecological Society)

A career in the ecological sciences can be very rewarding, with a wide range of exciting opportunities available within the job sector. Getting onto the career ladder, whether straight from studying or as a career change, can be a challenge and has proved even more so over the last year when opportunities to gain experience have been limited.

In March 2021 the British Ecological Society teamed up with the Linnean Society to organise the Student Futures and Research Conference. Through this conference we gained an insight into the obstacles faced by those wishing to pursue a career in ecology and the natural sciences and have been able to gather a range of tips and tricks to be able to stand out from the crowd and progress in your chosen career:

Networking – careers in ecology can vary widely so seek out those in careers you have an interest in and ask questions. This can be a great way to find out about opportunities and can open doors for you. Putting yourself out there can be daunting but it is very common to feel that way and you will find that the vast majority will welcome your approach.

Social media presence - set up a LinkedIn profile and twitter account to connect with potential future employers. They are a great tool to boost your online profile and also to spot new opportunities. Many job opportunities circulate via twitter and you can follow job related accounts to keep up to date.

Soft skills – whatever your current career stage or circumstances it is always a good time to focus on your soft skills. Teamwork, leadership and time management are all examples of skills that are useful in most career routes. Find evidence for the skills you already have – perhaps you gained communication skills during your PhD or teamwork when working in your local shop. They all count!

Training – there is a lot of free and paid for training available. The key is to do your research and identify the right training for you. If you are considering a career in consultancy can you work towards gaining a protected species licence? If you would prefer a role organising a local area’s conservation group would volunteer management training be right for you? Learned societies often have training opportunities, if there is a training topic you particularly want let them know.

Seek out opportunities – fancy increasing your writing experience? Many organisations have a blog that they encourage contributions to or magazines that want articles written. Need to improve your confidence in public speaking? Seek out ways you can practice whether online or in person, for example at a local speaking group. It is feared by many but crops up in many job roles and is a really useful skill to have once you get into it!

frog on a leaf (British Ecological Society)
(British Ecological Society)

Identification skills – candidates with species ID skills are increasingly in demand for many careers such as consultancy, research, NGOs and outdoor education. Find ways to improve your ID skills in for example botany, fungi or birds. Can you identify a hazel nut nibbled by a dormouse or a wood mouse? Can you identify a grass snake from an adder? You can work on your ID skills in your spare time and is a skill that can be self-taught with good resources and some fun!

Search job descriptions – it’s never too early to search for job roles even when not actively applying. Getting an idea of the essential and desirable experience a job is asking for can help you to plan your next steps. Do you need a driving licence? Do you need particular training? You can work to evidence these when you do come to apply for a similar role.

Make the most of university – if you are still studying this is an ideal time to be self-reflective and consider how you can best manage your time to gain the skills needed. Choose modules carefully and consider whether you can align your dissertation with your goals. University societies often provide opportunities to gain experience in some administrative roles. 

Find a mentor – there are many mentoring schemes available such as at the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management. A mentor can help you reach your potential and set objectives for your next steps to progression. 

Learned societies – become a member of a learned society to help progress your career. They are there to support their members and will have a range of ways you can engage and increase your skillset and experience. They can help you network and provide opportunities to attend events, conferences and access grants for travel and research. They are also a great addition to a CV and demonstrate you have a genuine interest in a subject.

When job seeking perseverance and enthusiasm are key. It is never too late to start reflecting on the skills you currently have and to focus on those needed to progress. Whilst having a career goal in mind is great it is also worth being flexible and considering the wide range of opportunities available within the ecological sciences.

The British Ecological Society have many opportunities coming up including the development of a new mentoring scheme, a return of the Student Futures and Research Conference and our annual flagship Summer School. You can find more information and job opportunities by following @BES_Careers, looking on the website or by emailing

First published in CJS Focus on Careers in Ecology & Biodiversity in association with CIEEM on 20 September 2021. Read the full issue here

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Posted On: 08/09/2021

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