Nigel Robins

Student spotlight details

Nigel began applying the skills he gained from the Postgraduate Certificate in Ecological Survey Techniques to his professional projects straight from the outset. His time on the course enabled him to change his perspective and work differently, finding a better position to challenge assumptions and present results.

‘I am a project manager in the UK Civil Service, and have worked for a number of government departments and agencies over the years, delivering all sorts of projects and products from websites and training schemes to various types of computer installations. I am also a government project assurance reviewer, so a lot of my time is spent reviewing project activities and value for money schemes. These days I am increasingly involved in all sorts of environmental and ecology project work.

‘Initially I felt that I needed more skills in ecology and statistics. I remember reviewing a programme of work from a big science project, and was presented with a mass of statistics about pollinators and insect distributions. It was fascinating work and I could see I needed a better background in the site sampling and fieldwork. Within a few months I was reviewing something similar on the Stonehenge Environmental Improvements Project, looking at the issues surrounding the mitigation of various engineering works. I decided I wanted to improve my skills on fieldwork and survey methods. The Postgraduate Certificate in Ecological Survey Techniques offered the most direct and focussed way of getting these skills quickly.

‘For me, the course content was directly relevant to questions I faced. The forums and messages meant that I was never without someone to discuss something with and the varied backgrounds of my fellow students meant that there was plenty of informal learning available through listening to the issues raised by others. The modular course structure was immensely helpful in concentrating the limited time I had on specific goals and skills; for example, I was able to complete the vegetation module and immediately go out and complete some surveys on specific habitat issues we faced on a site. The same thing happened on the reptile module. I could see that the skills and background I was acquiring were directly applicable to problems...and that is a real confidence booster! The biggest challenges I now face are being confronted with a site or parcel of land and having to work out a protocol to establish what is there. I found the module assignments were priceless in establishing the skills I need to meet those types of challenge.

‘I expected the course to be personally relevant to me and my desire to acquire new skills. But the bonus was being able to use the knowledge and skills with wider aspects of my project work.

‘These days a full-time “anything’” is impossible in large organisations, and my ecology/biodiversity work is perhaps 10% of my work in projects and programmes. Better understanding of GIS, a good refresh on using statistics, a rigorous approach to analysis have all helped immensely. My aim was to be a skilled field surveyor and analyst but the reality is that I increasingly get co-opted onto various environmental programme boards to oversee others who do the fieldwork. I don’t know if it has made me better at my job...but it has made me different at my job. The feedback from clients is that I bring a different perspective to issues and I am better able to challenge assumptions and results. A classic assumption in my world of work is that for a parcel of land ‘there is nothing there’ but a survey can determine exactly what is there with always interesting but often surprising results.

'For the future, I want to increase the amount of time I spend on environmental/ecology work. Some of this will be voluntary or unpaid but that is the nature of work in this sector. Although much of what I have learned is directly useful, there are still gaps and I know I will need to improve my invertebrate survey skills for next year’s plans.

‘For me, studying online was the only viable option. The beauty of the PGCert was that I could continue with studies from wherever I was working (which could be anywhere in UK). The flexibility and ease of access to the online virtual learning environment was excellent. Support was always readily available and any problems were rectified almost immediately. Time management was always a challenge for me and even though I expected to devote a generous amount of evening and weekend time to the work I found that I had to double the amount of time I allowed for reading and coursework. It was all worth it and I had a tremendous learning experience.'

Learn more: