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MSc Species Identification and Survey Skills -
How You'll Learn – University of Reading

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    How You'll Learn

MSc Species Identification and Survey Skills -
How You'll Learn

Programme Director: Dr Graham Holloway


MSc Species Identification and Survey Skills - Projects and PlacementsThe Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) is the organisation that oversees the ecological consultancy sector ensuring that high professional standards are adhered to. The Species Identification and Survey Skills (SISS) MSc programme was designed following a publication by CIEEM on skills gaps in practicing ecologists and, in particular, students finishing their university studies.

The top three gaps were:

  • A lack of knowledge of taxonomy and systematics
  • Lack of ability to identify species, particularly under field conditions
  • Lack of ability to carry out field ecological survey and sampling, in particular of invertebrates, fish and birds.

RSK LogoThe topics included in the programme were drawn up by an employer, RSK, to be delivered jointly by University and RSK personnel. This ensured that students embracing the degree and all that is on offer will finish with a skills set valued by RSK (and other employers). Consequently, the prospects for SISS students to enter the ecological consultancy market are second to none; there is simply no other programme that offers similar prospects in the UK.

The employment statistics for the course to date are perfect: 100% of all students who finish and who want to enter the ecological consultancy sector have done so, often with a permanent contract before the end of their MSc programme.

Students do not gain the required skills by sitting in a classroom being lectured to. Almost all of the work is hands-on, in the field, in a laboratory, behind a computer, actively working with peers and employers, etc. The assignments are fit-for-purpose. Once again, the standard undergraduate approach to continuous assignment, i.e. the essay, is not used. Instead you will be expected to work on things such as tender reports, logbooks, spots tests and so on. There is a lot of field work; in fact by the end of the spring term you will have spent hundreds of hours in the field and associated lab work. An employer at interview will want to find out what you can deliver to the organisation and the relevant information that you know.

Students studying on Species Identification and Survey Skills do have a busy timetable, but then we only have you for two terms. Everything we want to provide you with needs to be crammed into 20 short weeks after which time you leave on your placement. Don't feel though that our intention is to crush you with sheer weight of work. There is plenty of time available to socialise, to do part-time work and, because the learning platform involves engaging with wildlife and each other, the learning process is great fun as well.

TG logoA variety of Ecological Consultancies are excited by this MSc programme and wish to engage with its students, principally via the placement module. In addition to this, Tyler Grange sponsors the Invertebrate Survey and Assessment module.

Although the Species Identification and Survey Skills MSc very much targets the ecological consultancy sector, it is not the idea to pigeonhole students by removing the flexibility to move into other work sectors. For this reason, students have the opportunity to opt for a standard research project rather than a project placement if they prefer. A standard project gives the student a great deal of control over the topic to be studied. Projects can be carried out overseas as well as in the UK, on a wide range of taxonomic groups and in conjunction with organizations external to the university. We have many well established links with NGOs including RSPB, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Marine Conservation Society, Local Wildlife Trust, and many more.


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