Careers in Ecology Subgroup Discussion

Our discussions resulted in the realization of four primary categories under which ecological careers will provide challenges and opportunities: quality of life (work-life balance), lack of positions (funding and support from society), lack of training for diverse careers (identifying transferable skills, networking), technology (and the associated skills needed to deal with big data). We present these categories here in no particular order. 

 


1. Quality of Life (work-life balance, family)

Challenges

  • Time commitment
    • How much time should one commit to family and work responsibilities?
      • A career in ecology (especially in academia) can be infinite in its demands.
      • Investment depends on your value of family life (marriage, having kids, etc.)
    • Lots of pressure to work a lot from faculty
      • Professionals propagate the 80-90 hr. work week theory to success.
      • Places stress on students - highlights importance of time management
      • Salary
  • Salary
    • What salary range can you expect in different fields of ecology?
      • Funding in ecology is difficult to get which translates directly to relatively low earnings for most professionals
      • It is often difficult to attain a stable job prior to the opportunity of a tenure track position (if this is even a goal)
      • Many jobs in and outside of academia are temporary positions
      • Funding for identical positions can vary widely within departments and between counties/states/etc. 
        • E.g. full professors at the University of Arizona make between $151,500 and $94,000/year

 

Opportunities

  • Time committment 
    • Have access to diverse pool of professionals through ESA meeting to survey for their opinions and practices
    • Encourage students to consider diverse career pathways 
  • Salary Databases
    • Public job databases are now online and one could perhaps write some code to go through them and summarize public salaries.

2. Lack of positions (funding, support from society)

Challenges

  • Temptation to take temporary, career track unrelated (underemployed) jobs (e.g. adjunct)
    • Why would anyone consider an underemployed job?
      • Not knowing how much it will influence future career opportunities
      • Desire (and need) to earn money 
  • Lack of comprehensive website explaining diverse jobs, difficulty advertising jobs,
    • Why are some jobs advertised more than others despite free sites (e.g. ecolog)?
      • Many employers prefer finding employees by networking, not blind adds
        • Gives rise to the hidden job market
    • Why do some non-academic jobs receive inappropriate or no applications?
      • Students and faculty are unaware of the skills required for them
      • Students and early career ecologists have difficulty marketing themselves outside academia

Opportunities

  • Online platforms for networking and ability to easily create and manage websites
    • For example we can create an interactive jobs website to help students tackle the challenges presented above
  • Evolving jobs/careers
    • Students being willing to adapt to new resources/funding and pursuing those careers
    • Students taking an entrepreneurial approach 
    • Solution focused approaches (e.g. applied ecology) 
      • As we witness the impacts of climate change (increased temperatures, sea level rise, shifts in species’ distributions) occurring in/throughout our lifetimes, there is an increasing demand for ecologists to help predict, mitigate, and understand how the natural world works and how it will respond to shifts in climate. 

3. Lack of training for diverse careers (identifying transferable skills, networking)

Challenges

  • Transferable skills (self training, seeking out opportunities)
  • Integrative training approaches
    • Research is becoming increasingly integrative but course material is not always
  • Identifying skills that will be needed in the future
    • Many ecology programs train students for 90’s or 00’s ecology making it difficult for employers to find qualified candidates for 2010’s positions which exacerbates the already limited job market for ecologists
    • We need a way to communicate more directly with all ecology sectors to anticipate and teach future skills and supply that which is demanded, especially with respect to careers outside of academia

Opportunities

  • ESA and other societies offer plenty of opportunities to get involved and gain valuable transferable skills - only problem is, process is not straightforward like university course
  • Also websites exist that provide examples of how to market PhD skills outside of academia
  • Create task force that evaluates ecology every ~5 yrs. with respect to demand and emerging skills and posts on ESA SS website


4. Technology - additional skills needed to deal with big data

Challenges

  • Big Data
    • Coding and Cluster Computing - necessary to address the big data of the future
    • Everyone should learn the basics of coding, especially since it is a transferable skill
      • Internet makes it easy to do so, however this ease of access also results in great variation in skill sets

Opportunities

  • Big Data 
    • Opens up the door to asking bigger and better questions about systems
    • Gives everyone the opportunity to access and learn from it
      • E.g. ecotourism and wading bird datasets - new jobs?
    • Develop ESA-certified short-course for running and using computing clusters

Challenges

  • Virtual presence/promotion
    • Social media provides access to a wide audience by transcending geography but there are so many sites that it is difficult to determine which ones are an effective use of time
  • Web is broad and difficult to navigate
    • It is not sufficient to simply have a site to dump information on

Opportunities

  • Virtual presentation 
    • Social media is growing rapidly throughout the globe and an understanding of its potential, and ability to capitalize on it will be invaluable going forward, especially for anyone interested in a career outside of acadmia
    • any websites already exist that explain how to best accomplish this
    • Opens up new opportunities for networking
      • Opens up collaborations across disciplines, art, illustrations, graphic design, etc. which improves the scale and scope of research questions and their ultimate societal impact