How My Passions Come to Life at Atkins
By Morgan Hughes, senior ecologist
When I grow up…
I grew up in south Florida, surrounded by wildlife, and so it is no surprise really that I ended up choosing a career in ecology. As a very young child, I wanted to study entomology (my favourite book was about two Victorian female entomologists who went on adventures and caught bugs!), and by the time I was 11, I wanted to be a marine biologist. My favourite memories from childhood are seining in a lagoon on a middle school field trip and catching a shamefaced crab (Calappa flammea), going on a trip to our nearest state park to dissect owl pellets, and going on a camouflaged canoe on the edge of the Everglades to count wood stork on a tiny island called MC2.
I went to the University of Wolverhampton to study Ecology and Physical Geography, and I specialised at that time in birds, doing my dissertation on Avocets. I volunteered for my local RSPB at weekends and did residential volunteering in the summer.
My actual career…
My first ‘proper’ conservation job after university was as Information Officer for the RSPB, where (as well as providing wildlife info to the public, I started doing small mammal surveys using Longworth traps, leading guided walks to look for water voles and birds, and training volunteers in survey and identification skills. After that, I worked for the Wildlife Trust running a citizen science project, published an atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles, and then went back to university to study Biological Recording. I worked for 6 years for a local authority as a Senior Countryside Officer, where I got to further my skills in surveys and identification, specialising in bats and bees, and I completed my MSc at the University of Birmingham. Two years ago, I took what, looking back, was a huge leap: I left the conservation sector to become an Ecologist at Atkins. The move was terrifying, because it was, essentially, a career change. I needed a new challenge and a way to push myself out of my comfort zone. Although I used the same skill set, I had to learn the ropes of a brand-new industry. It was the best decision I’ve ever made, and I haven’t looked back since.
No two days are the same…
Without a doubt, the best thing about working as a Senior Ecologist at Atkins is the fantastic, knowledgeable people I get to work with, collaborate with and learn from. No two days are the same at work, and I get the opportunity to work on some ground-breaking projects. It’s not an easy job, but it is fulfilling and challenging. I made the move to consultancy to push myself, and it certainly has done that. Personal development and technical excellence are very high on the priority list here at Atkins, and that allows me to share my skills and knowledge with my colleagues, as well as benefit from their skills and knowledge. I feel that I’ve learned more in the last two years than in the preceding ten!
So, would I recommend an ecology career?
Without hesitation. BUT… I would advise anyone who is considering it to find your area of particular passion as a priority. Ecology is a huge field, and I believe you will go further as a specialist in one or two areas, rather than as a generalist. But either way, it is a rewarding, challenging and stimulating career path.