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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 Jonathan Mitchley


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 in particular of plants, invertebrates and birds.

RSK Logo Aspect Ecology

The topics included in the programme were devised and developed by ecological consultants at RSK Group Ltd, and recently developed and expanded by Aspect Ecology and delivered jointly by University and ecological consultants. This has ensured that students embracing the degree and all that is on offer will finish with a skills set valued by relevant 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 outstanding: 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 spot tests, plant identification using keys, professional surveys and reports and so on.

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 packed into 20 short weeks after which time you leave on your placement (or start your research project, see below). 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 plants, vegetation and 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 research project rather than a project placement if they prefer. A 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 Natural England, The National Trust, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, The Natural History Museum, The Royal Horticultural Society and NGOs including RSPB, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Marine Conservation Society, The Wildlife Trusts, and many more.


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