Environmental Jobs in Ireland

Blog post: How to get your first job in ecology

by admin - January 24th, 2018.
Filed under: Academic, Botany, Communications, Conservation, Consultancy, Ecology, Graduate Jobs, Non-Governmental Organisation, Research, Volunteering, Zoology.

Careers in ecology are varied, challenging and rewarding. However, it can be difficult for recent graduates to get on the first rung of the career ladder. This is a perennial problem for early-career jobseekers. Employers look for candidates with a certain amount of experience but how can you gain experience if you can’t get hired without it? You may start to feel that if graduate jobs were a species, they would be on the Red Data List! There are several steps you can take to give yourself a competitive advantage in the ecological jobs market without having been employed in the sector. Here are some tips and useful resources to help you get your ecological career started. The examples given are Ireland-focused but the tips are relevant wherever you are.

Develop your ecological skills

If you want to develop a career in ecology, botany or zoology, join a field club or society that offers regular field outings and training events such as the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland or the Dublin Naturalists’ Field Club. This is a great, inexpensive way to learn identification skills and make new contacts, as well as collecting important data and having a fun day out. Also, the National Biodiversity Data Centre’s Spring Workshop Programme has just been announced. These workshops tend to fill up quickly so book your place now if you want to attend!

Would you like to get practical, hands-on experience in conservation work and ecological surveys? Volunteering with an NGO, like BirdWatch Ireland or the Irish Peatland Conservation Council, is a great way to learn valuable skills, while helping a good cause. Get involved in Citizen Science projects, such as the annual Coastwatch Survey (in September and October), the Daubenton’s Bat Waterway Survey (August) or various projects run by the National Biodiversity Data Centre. Many of these provide free training in exchange for your participation and you will be supporting important research to inform conservation and environmental management.

It’s wise to build up a broad ecological knowledge but also to develop your own niche. Make one habitat or one group of plants or animals your specialism and gradually build your knowledge in this area.

Good written communication skills are vital for ecologists. Look for opportunities to publish your work, in print or online, to demonstrate your skills to potential employers. The website actively seeks research, essays and opinion pieces for publication.

Join a professional organisation

If you want a career in Environmental Consultancy, consider joining the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management. It has an active Irish Branch and various membership grades. Many ecological consultancies expect prospective employees to be members.

Develop a network of contacts

Networking is absolutely essential, not just to find that first job but throughout your career. Use your contacts! Get to know people in the sector that you would like to work in and ask for their advice. After you meet someone, connect with them on LinkedIn to stay in touch. While you’re there, join the EcoCareers Ireland Group to opt in for updates by email.

Conferences are a brilliant opportunity to network and make new connections. Perhaps you could give an oral or poster presentation to highlight a research project you completed as a student? This year the 28th Irish Environmental Researchers Colloquium (Environ 2018) will be held at the Cork Institute of Technology from March 26th – 28th. Also the Annual Meeting of Irish Freshwater Biologists 2018 will take place at University College Dublin on March 23rd.

Use your transferable skills

If you have previously had a job in another sector, you have probably developed transferable skills that would be relevant to a job in ecology, such as time management, data management, communication or teamwork. Your hobbies may also be relevant. For example, if you apply for a job as an upland ecologist, being an experienced hillwalker is an advantage. Make sure to highlight these skills in your job application!

Research careers

If you want to work in ecological research, you should strongly consider doing a Masters or PhD. However, this is not a decision to be made lightly! Pick a topic that genuinely interests you, choose a supportive supervisor and secure adequate funding, particularly if you are committing to a PhD.

Researchers are often evaluated on the basis of their publication record so it’s important to publish your research, ideally in peer-reviewed publications. Have you completed a student research project or made an interesting ecological find that you could write up? Ask your supervisor for their input and make them a co-author. The Irish Naturalists’ Journal publishes papers and notes on any aspect of Irish natural history and is open to both amateur enthusiasts and professional scientists. Biology and EnvironmentProceedings of the Royal Irish Academy publishes research on topics of Irish interest for an international readership. There is a vast array of journals covering virtually every sub-discipline of ecology. Check the Instructions to Authors to see if your research fits the journal’s aims and scope.

Applying for jobs

Show initiative by researching organisations or, in the case of academic research, supervisors who you would love to work with. Contact them directly to enquire about potential jobs, internships or research opportunities and include your CV. A surprisingly high proportion of vacancies are filled this way, so don’t miss out by waiting for positions to be advertised.

In the public sector, it’s especially worthwhile applying for job vacancies that state that a panel will be formed. Even if you’re not offered the job initially, subsequent vacancies are often filled from the panel.

There is usually more work available for ecologists during the fieldwork season, at least for certain disciplines. For botanists, for example, the fieldwork season usually runs from around April or May to September. Start planning now if you are looking for a fieldwork job in 2018!

Finally, of course, keep a close eye on for new opportunities. Best of luck with your jobhunting!

Dr Jenni Roche

Career Profile: Jenni is an ecologist and project manager with over 15 years of experience in research, consultancy and protected area management. She began her career by completing a degree in Environmental Science at Trinity College Dublin. She conducted her student research project in Connemara National Park while working there as a guide. This experience provided a stepping stone to a position as Assistant Ecologist with BEC Consultants. She left to complete a PhD in Botany, also at Trinity, before returning to BEC Consultants and moving up the career ladder to Consultant Ecologist and then Senior Ecologist. Jenni is currently the Coordinator of Dublin Bay Biosphere.

Twitter @Jenni_Roche

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