School education in London,
BSc degree in Botany from Bristol University,
Msc degree in Landscape Ecology from Wye College (Kent),
MSc degree in Taxonomy and Evolution of Plants from University of Edinburgh,
PhD in plant evolutionary biology from University of St Andrews.
A Levels got me a place at university to study botany,
my first degree got me a place on a Masters course,
my first Masters led to work in the nature conservation sector,
my second Masters led to a PhD,
my PhD was needed to be able to apply for the job I now do.
– Botanical surveyor for the Countryside Survey
– Conservation Officer for English Nature
– Plant Records Officer for the Euro+Med database
– Checkout staff for Sainsbury’s supermarket
– Community Tree Officer for City of Edinburgh Council
Science Communicator for the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh holds one of the richest plant collections on Earth and is a centre of excellence in the scientific study and conservation of plant diversity. It’s a leading Scottish visitor attraction, interpreting the world of plants to about one million visitors across four gardens in Scotland to build an appreciation of the vital role plants have in any sustainable future.
Favourite thing to do in my job: Demystify science with plain engaging language
About Me: I am a botanist (name for a scientist who studies plants) who has moved into working on public engagement and communication.
I live in Edinburgh and enjoy walking and cycling around the City and surrounding countryside. Plants have been a fascination for as long as I can remember, probably because I got out into nature a lot as a child. I count myself very fortunate for this early contact with the natural world. I put my plant knowledge to practical use by foraging for wild edible plants. A particular favourite is the few-flowered leek. The bright green leaves make a super pasta sauce with a garlic kick, so not for everyone!
My Work: I work at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and try to make the world of plants and fungi inspiring and engaging for everyone, even those who think they don't care.
Inspiring and engaging people often relies on storytelling techniques. Facts and figures can be really dull and boring. I try to make plants and fungi relevant and relatable to people by showing how useful and important these organisms, that appear not to move and get easily overlooked, really are for our lives and even our survival. Of course plants and fungi do move, just really slowly. Although, if you have seen a Venus flytrap at work you will know that some plants can move at lightening speed.
How you communicate anything to people is really only limited by your own imagination, so I have used lots of different mediums of communication over the years. I think the newest and most exciting medium that I have used so far is a computer game about tree health. The player has the job of a forester who is trying to keep forests healthy, benefit forest wildlife and turn a profit. Not an easy challenge when so many new tree pests and diseases are arriving in the UK by accident due to global trade and the movement of people.
My Typical Day: My job is pretty varied by the standards of many jobs and I'm not chained to a computer at all times. I cycle to work to blow away the cobwebs and keep fit. I find this is also good for general wellbeing. I might be creatively thinking about how to make a topic engaging for a specific audience. For example, how would you make sustainable farming interesting for a five year old? I also get involved in writing and checking text for blogs, exhibitions and interpretation panels. I enjoy the challenge of getting a message across using simple language and only a few words. If you can't write your message in fifty words a lot of people simply will not read it.
Although I trained as a scientist I don’t do research now. My day is not spent in a lab or out in the field collecting and measuring things. Instead, I have the fun of helping the scientists and horticultural staff get their stories across to the public using a wide variety of tools and media. If I am running a public event I might be checking that everything is ready to go for when my colleagues arrive and the public are let into the Garden as 10am. Alterntively, I might be working at a computer writing a blog or checking some text written by someone else for suitability and accuracy of content. Writing engaging text to tight word counts is a skill you have to develop in this job. I think what I like most about my job is the variety. All sorts of interesting ideas for public engagement come my way and sometimes you just have to step outside your comfort zone and give something new a try. If you are a creative person working in public engagement is worth considering.
What I'd do with the prize money: Buy myself an inflatable kayak to explore the waterways of Scotland in.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
bike-mad botany geek
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
What was your favourite subject at school?
What did you want to be after you left school?
Were you ever in trouble at school?
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
An expedition to a remote tropical island
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Health, happiness and a bike frame built from Reynolds 653 tubing
Tell us a joke.
A man knocked on the doot of the Kremlin and said "is Len in?"