How to become an ecologist: Gabrielle's story

Meet Gabrielle. She's 24, from Hull, and is a graduate ecologist at RammSanderson. Part of our Bitesize world of work series.

"I love working outside. When you actually see the animals you really appreciate what our countryside has."

What does your job as an ecologist involve?

During the summer, my job involves doing what we call 'phase one habitat surveys'. This is where we go out and survey specific environmental conditions, looking for protected species, like bats and badgers. Once we find them, we work out ways to protect them from human activity and development.

During the winter, my job is very desk-based. My daily tasks involve writing reports and licences.

Did you always know you wanted to do this job?

Definitely not. I didn’t even know it existed when I was at school! I always knew that I wanted to work with animals and the obvious route was to become a vet.

I volunteered with lots and lots of organisations, including local ones, and also with orangutans in Borneo while I was travelling. It became clear to me that I didn’t really want to be a vet, I wanted to help conserve animals instead.

Gabrielle identifies protected species and helps to protect them.

What skills do you use in your work?

A lot of my work is based on being able to identify common plants, mammal signs and bat calls, so subject knowledge is very important. I draw on the plant biology that I learnt in school a lot – it's just as important as animal biology.

I need to use lots of soft skills too. Organisation is important as I have to meet deadlines for getting reports to clients. Time management is also important as I have to juggle my workload – I might be managing three different reports at once, and also have field surveys to do. Teamwork is also really important because we never work alone and ICT skills too because I use the computer every day.

What was your educational career path?

At GCSE I took triple Science and that was really helpful because we went into a lot of depth in each subject (Physics, Chemistry, and Biology). At A-level I took all three sciences and History. Biology was the critical one for this job, but I don’t think I’d be as good at writing reports without History.

Then I went to university and did a degree in Zoology – that was the best experience of my life! I’m currently doing an online master's degree in Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health.

It took me a long time to become an ecologist. Alongside my degree, I did lots of volunteer work and training courses in things like mammal identification. This really helped me to get ahead in this type of work.

Gabrielle's job involves working at her computer, as well as getting out in nature.

Top tips

  • Try everything. You don’t know what you’re going to fall into or what you'll really like

  • Get as much work experience as you can. This is a hard industry to get into, but it's easier if you have a lot of experience and some transferable skills. It makes you more desirable to employers

  • It can be demoralising sometimes to go for interviews and not be offered the job, but if you know what you want, you have to just persevere and keep going.

What to expect if you want to be an ecologist

Ecologists study the relationship between plants, animals and the environment.

Ecologist salary: from £19,000 to £45,000 per year Ecologist working hours: 39 to 41 hours per week. It could involve evening and weekend work

What qualifications do you need to be an ecologist?

Typical entry requirements: You'll need a university degree or postgraduate qualification in a relevant subject (for example, Ecology, Zoology or Environmental Science). You will usually need two to three A-levels (or equivalent) to access a degree course.

Volunteering is a great way to get experience in this career and may improve your chances of finding work. You can also build up contacts within conservation, which will be useful when looking for jobs. You can find volunteering opportunities with: The Conservation Volunteers, National Trust, The Wildlife Trusts.

This information is a guide (sources: LMI for All, National Careers Service)

Find out more on the Prospects website about the role of an ecologist.

For careers advice in all parts of the UK visit: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

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