Hobby to Job Can Be a Natural Progression; Career Mail

Article excerpt

Byline: LINDA WHITNEY

AUTUMN'S abundance of fungus, wild fruits and wildlife is great if you are interested in natural history.

But can you turn your hobby into a career?

There is no set career path, and competition is hot for natural history jobs, such as those in conservation societies, natural history museums or scientific institutes.

For scientific jobs such as these you need at least a first degree, but plan before you study.

Monique Simmonds, head of sustainable uses of plants at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, who gives career talks to students and schools, says: 'Start thinking about what you are most interested in early, while at school, and choose courses to get the skills to reach your goal.' If you like identifying wild flowers, fungi or underwater life, for instance, you could study taxonomy, the identification and classification of organisms. There are now no pure taxonomy university courses, but it is part of other courses at Reading, Birmingham and Leeds.

Professor Simmonds says: 'There is a huge shortage of taxonomists, even though taxonomy skills are essential for work in conservation, environmental management, horticulture and chemistry, where it is used for discovering new drugs.' There are several taxonomic institutes in the UK, usually based in botanic gardens, such as Kew, which has over 70 taxonomists specialising in plants and three in fungi. The Natural History Museum also employs taxonomists, but pure taxonomy job opportunities are limited. Prof Simmonds advises: 'As with many specialist qualifications, you need to look into other potential applications for your skills such as in conservation work, environmental management, horticulture or chemistry. Pay for taxonomists starts at [pounds sterling]15,000.

'If you want to take you enthusiasm into museum work, you will need a qualification in museum studies on top of your specialist natural history degree,' advises Tony Maggio, head of recruitment at the Natural History Museum in London.

It has close links with Imperial College in London, which offers an MA in museum studies including taxonomy and cataloguing skills.

Jobs in the Natural History Museum's science department are not frequently available, partly because people tend to stay in post for years, but there are entry-level graduate jobs for information assistants in the library, and as plant mounters, for which you need a botany degree and plant mounting experience, perhaps gained by voluntary work. Pay ranges from [pounds sterling]16,000 to [pounds sterling]22,000.

VOLUNTEERS understand what the work is about, gain mentors and get on to the right networks to hear about jobs,' says Mr Maggio. For more about the museum's work experience and volunteering opportunities see www.nhm.ac.uk Kew also takes volunteers in areas including horticulture and science and offers a horticulture internship programme (see www.

rbgkew.org.uk), but competition for places can be fierce.

Conservation charities also offer jobs in natural history.

Mark Parsons, of Butterfly Conservation, based in Dorset, says: 'We look for a degree, preferably in biology, and you have to be a competent field naturalist with a good knowledge of lepidoptera and field conservation.' You also have to be willing to move to find jobs and volunteering opportunities.

'We have 45 staff, spread among offices in Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland and regionally throughout the country, and staff move between these posts,' says Mr Parsons.

At the Marine Conservation Society, Richard Harrington says: 'Of our 20 employees most have marine biology degrees but some have done other sciences. …