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Geologist
What do you do for a living?
I work as a geologist for the British Geological Survey, a research institute funded partly by the government, and partly by contract work for others.

How did you get interested in what you do? What advice was available to you when you chose this career direction?

I first wanted to do engineering. But then I heard and read about geology and thought it would be great to find out things about rocks and the Earth while working in the outdoors. At school or at home no one knew much about it. But I went to Open Day of the university and I got a lot of very good advice and a good idea what it’s like to study geology.

What subjects did you choose at high school – were they the right choices for your future career?

Dutch and English (I had to), maths, physics, chemistry and geography.

Maths, physics and chemistry proved to be the most important. I also studied French and German to Standard grade, and that came in handy too.

What was your journey to reach the role you are in today?

I studied geology at the University of Utrecht (in the Netherlands). After graduating, I worked a season as a tour guide for a travel company. Great fun, but after summer: no work! I finally got a job at the University of Aberdeen – doing lots of fieldwork in the Scottish Highlands.

After that I got the chance to do a PhD in Oxford, working on rocks in West Norway.

After that I worked three years at a University in Australia, doing research with a minerals company (BHP-minerals) to figure out how and where silver deposits are formed, and where they could best explore next.

Australia was a bit far away, so around 12 years ago I managed to get the job at the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh.

Talk me through a day in your life… what sorts of things would it involve?

I work both outdoors (20-40 days a year) and in the office. The outdoors ‘fieldwork’ involves studying rocks and outcrops, and recording them accurately in a notebook (nowadays a PC tablet). For me, most of that work has been in the Highlands. In the office, the work involves making geological maps (also using a computer), writing reports, discussing any new finds with colleagues. We are now also trying to put geological data into computer-generated 3D models. Because BGS stores vast amount of data, I also work with IT staff to see what the best way is to store such data. If we find something really new, we try to write it up as a scientific article. Sometimes we’re also called up to look at the geology of a construction site.

Was it your planned career when you were 18?

Pretty much. Amazingly I managed to do what I wanted, which was to do research while working outdoors in great scenery.

Q. What did your mum and dad want you to do?

Not sure, they didn’t push me in any particular direction, but I think they were happy with my choice.

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

a) Be keen, very keen.

b) Study hard at a good university, and try to get a First Class degree. (Edinburgh, St Andrews, Aberdeen and Glasgow all have fine Departments)

c) Find out what interests you most and then do a good Masters degree in that direction.

d) Be prepared to travel. If you like travelling and seeing the world this is for you.

What other directions could you go in /work in within your field other than the job you have chosen?

Many geologists work in the petroleum industry, either in the UK (many in Aberdeen) or abroad. The mineral exploration industry also employs many geologists, where you might work all over the world. You earn more there, but might get fired if the share price drops! Others work as ‘engineering geologists’ for the construction engineering companies. Other geologist work to find groundwater, study earthquakes or monitor volcanoes.

If there is anything you have not covered about your area of expertise, please feel free to add here.

The British Geological Survey holds an Open Day every year on the last Saturday of September. Visit www.bgs.ac.uk for more info.

Government Research Scientist
What do you do for a living?
I’m a government research scientist. I do research on freshwater ecology, specialising in research on algae in lochs (especially toxic algal blooms)

How did you get interested in what you do?
I’ve always liked biology and had an inspiring biology teacher at school. I didn’t get a lot of careers advice at school (I think a 5-10 minute chat!), so I just chose to do “biological sciences” at University of Edinburgh. I wish I’d been given more advice about the variety of subjects available at universities.

What was your journey to reach the role you are in today?

In my final year of my degree at Edinburgh I chose a course on lake ecology which I enjoyed and so I then chose to research this subject for a higher degree, a PhD at the University of Liverpool. I spent 3.5 years doing this research on water quality and freshwater algae before receiving my PhD. After this I had two relatively short jobs (2 years each) at the University of Liverpool and then the Natural History Museum in London.

I then applied for a “Lectureship in Environmental Change” in the Geography Department at University College London, and despite only having an O Grade in Geography, I got the job! (they wanted a specialist in lake ecosystems). I taught there for 6 years and continued doing research on lakes in the UK, Europe and China (including expeditions to Tibet and Inner Mongolia). After 6 years I was sent the job details for my current job at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, near Penicuik. I decided to apply as teaching at university was taking too much time away from research and this is not good for a long-term academic career. I got the job up in Edinburgh and now lead the Freshwater Ecology Group there. There are a lot of training opportunities available to me (powerboat driving, statistics, science communication), and I was even allowed recently to spend 1 year in Italy working for the European Commission.

Talk us through a day in your life.
These days I rarely get to go and see a freshwater loch! I spend most of my day in my office at the computer, analysing data from Loch Leven (our main monitoring site) and also large European datasets from about 1500 lakes across Europe. I write this work up to be published in scientific
journals. I also spend a lot of my time now managing several research projects, mostly funded by the European Union. I still spend some time looking down a microscope identifying and counting algae (to assess the health of Scottish lochs) – although I mainly do this to train a new staff
member who is learning this rare skill!

Was this your planned career when you were 18?
Not at all! I just enjoyed biology.

What did your parents want you to do?
Medicine. They were disappointed in my choice of degree!

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

Try and get some voluntary work experience – the Nuffield Foundation organise work placements for school children. Also read popular science journals such as “New Scientist” to find out about all the branches of science available – and also to read all the job adverts at the back to see the types of careers available.You can also follow science (or scientists) on Twitter or Facebook – try “Planet Earth Online” http://planetearth.nerc.ac.uk/

What other career directions could you go in?
I could work for government departments (Scottish Gov.) or their agencies (SEPA, SNH), or private environmental consultancies (e.g. APEM). I could alsogo back to teach (and do research) at university.

Government Researcher
What do you do for a living?
I spend a great deal of my time in prison. Actually, that’s true. I do research on how to steer offenders away from crime, whether prison works to reduce reoffending and also do research on what the public think of prisons and the sentences given to offenders. I then ensure that the findings of the research are explained to Ministers and government officials who use it to make policies that are based on good research rather than on what the media says or hearsay or opinion. Well that’s the ideal scenario!

How did you get interested in what you do? What advice was available to you when you chose this career direction?
I wasn’t a massive fan of spelling or arithmetic, but always liked doing projects at school. I loved looking up information and organising it in an interesting way. I also loved talking about what I’d found out. I talked a lot. Fortunately, the job I do basically requires exactly the same skills.

My school wasn’t very good at giving career advice. They used a computer which took your details and came up with weird job choices. I was lucky that my dad, who’s a scientist inspired me to follow research path and my mother, who is a psychologist got me really fascinated by what makes people behave the way they do and what makes them change.

What was your journey to reach the role you are in today? (talk perhaps about education/choices/university, college, training or apprenticeships/ CPD or professional exams/job progression)
To get the job in Analytical Services I had to achieve 5 higher grades (as they were in those days) and then a degree (or 3) so I went to study Psychology at Glasgow University. After that I completed an Master of Philosophy degree in Criminology and then completed a PhD. My first job was a actually as a University lecturer…which I loved but the post wasn’t permanent. Although I had several academic qualifications , I also had to find out how criminal justice actually worked so I started delivering training courses to police officers, advocates and judges which taught me about the criminal justice system and the role of the people who work within the system.

Talk me through a day in your life… what sorts of things would it involve?
Some of you may think that working for the government sounds a bit dull, but one positive aspect about the Scottish Government is flexible working hours so I don’t have to start work until 10am. The day usually starts with have to respond to 100’s of emails followed by meetings with other analysts, policy colleagues or Ministers. When I get a minute I write evidence accounts on various topics, for example I’ve written about women prisoners, drug abuse or violence. We analyse data, deliver presentations or have meetings to discuss what we know about an issue. We sometimes get to visit prisons to interview offenders and prison officers on various topics.

Was it your planned career when you were 18?
Not really, I wanted to be a dancer.

What did your mum and dad want you to do?
Anything that gave me financial independence, that I’d enjoy and be good at.

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?
Go to Uni and work very hard, but also show how interested you are by doing voluntary work in the topic area.

What other directions could you go in /work in within your field other than the job you have chosen?
I guess I could go back and teach and do research at Colleges or Universities. There are also private research organisations I could work for.