My main tasks
We are primarily field ecologists and therefore, we cannot setup controlled experiments, which means we must try to understand a species or an ecosystem as it occurs naturally. This means that our data collection must be designed to answer specific questions and so experimental design and a good understanding of statistics are crucial. In terms of analysing the data we collect, an ability to programme is increasingly important. We often use satellite data and GIS in our analyses, so an understanding of different types of data is important. In more general terms, it’s important to be organised, to be able to communicate and present information to other people.
I used to really dislike writing, but as I have developed in my career it has become easier, and sometimes even enjoyable. My biggest challenge is presenting to large audiences; I don’t like this. But it is unavoidable and usually once I begin talking it’s fine, however, I hate the nervous feeling before speaking.
Who influenced me
I think that would be my PhD supervisor, Dr Tom Doyle. His support and encouragement has been important over the last 5-6 years.
I love the sea and tend to snorkel, dive and surf in my spare time, so you’re never really switched off - work and life over-lap a lot. I don’t buy into a lot of the work-life balance stuff, life is life and you make time for the things you want or need to do. The majority of research positions are contract based and few of us have permanent roles, so job security is certainly an issue in research.
Most useful aspects of my education
Many of the practical skills I’ve developed have proven to be essential over the years; driving boats, diving and an aptitude for fixing things and improvising in the field. In a more academic sense, good writing and a strong grounding in math and especially statistics are absolutely essential. Finally, but certainly not least, you must be able to work with people!
Useful work experience
It’s important to develop academic and practical skills if you can. Experience of field work is always sought after and stands out in a CV. Likewise, a good level of math and the ability to programme are increasingly important. I think project managers often look for a balance between those two aspects.
There is no such thing as a top tip that suits all students, so I will give you a quote from one of my favourite authors instead.
“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down”