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Case Study: Vanessa

Personal details
Degree:Geography Profile picture
School(s): School of Geography and Geosciences
Year of Graduation:Jun-1997
National of: United Kingdom
Employment details
Organisation: Scottish Natural Heritage
Job title: Geomorphologist
Occupational Sector: Environmental Work
What has been your route to getting your current position?
After graduating I did 3 post-doctoral research posts on applied geomorphology (mountain hazards and river management) at Canterbury University NZ, St Andrews University and Aberdeen University. I also worked in mineral prospecting and environmental management consultancies. All this led to a contract on conservation management of dynamic rivers, which gave me that extra edge to gain my current post.
What does your job involve ?

My job is varied. It comprises internal consultancy for:

  • Conservation management casework, where I may be asked about the implications for conservation interests of planned developments (such as sand and gravel quarry extensions; flood management works; access road construction for installation of renewables infrastructure; soil erosion and grazing management; comments on development plans etc).
  • Advice on the conservation interests of Scottish Quaternary, Caves and Karst, Mass Movement and Fluvial Geological Conservation Review sites.
  • Implementation of national projects, such as adoption of the ecosystems approach to environmental management. Currently we are developing ecosystem services assessments that account for geomorphological and pedological processes, in addition to geological resources.
  • Advice to Scottish Government on the potential implications of climate change on geomorphological systems, particularly in upland environments of national and international conservation value.
  • Advice to the Scottish Government on Scotland’s geodiversity conservation resources.
  • Promoting understanding, appreciation and involvement in Scotlands geological and geomorphological heritage. This involves working with volunteer groups, and developing sometimes unusual interpretation materials from booklets and trail guides to a 31m long knitted scarf, which represents Scotland’s amazing geological record!
What are the best bits of your job ?
Problem solving is the key thing I enjoy. At least half of the work comes in unplanned, and has a quick turn around time. You have to provide a good quality service on almost any topic, and be able to communicate clearly how to deliver a solution.
Why were you successful?
I took on work in a wide range of applied research jobs, before applying for this post. It’s no good being specialized in a narrow niche, when the range of work coming in is so varied.
What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
My research background was vital, in developing a systematic and meticulous approach to problem identification, information gathering and formulating a response. A lot of the work is a bit like being a detective! In theory you don’t need a PhD to do this job, but nearly everyone I know has one, and uses that experience in exactly the same way.
What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?

It may be difficult to get a job as a government geomorphologist at the moment. However, there are now more opportunities in commercial consultancies for geomorphologists in applied land management. My advice would be get as much experience as possible, work hard and keep a high standard in all your output! A key thing is not to be put off. I had one dire job doing shoreline oil spill contingency plans, but in retrospect it was useful experience, even if it was utterly mind numbing and at the time. It also spurred me on to find something better. None of these jobs came directly out of adverts (except the post doc in New Zealand and my current job, both were advertised in 'Nature'). The rest came from building a good reputation and asking contacts if they needed someone to work for them. It paid off.