Bianca’s forestry adventures

Dr Bianca Ambrose-Oji is a Social Scientist working for Forest Research (an agency of the Forestry Commission). If you would enjoy working outdoors with a team of other people in a really varied job managing forests and woodlands, then read on, this may well be the job for you!

The Big Picture…

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I always wanted to be a vet. Turned out I wasn’t good enough at chemistry to get the required A levels.

Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?

I don’t think that there was a particular person, it’s just the journey that life took me along. After leaving school I did a number of jobs, and then I decided I wanted to make a difference to the environment and get into conservation. I decided the only way to do this was to get qualified. So I went to University (Wye College) to do a BSc and suddenly became enthused by research and the power of science to make a difference in changing people’s ideas about what was possible and how to achieve impacts. My enthusiasm for conservation as a first step came from David Attenborough.

What do you love about your job and what would you change?

I love the variety of the tasks I undertake. I also enjoy being inside and outside in the office and in the woods. I enjoy the challenge of communicating with all different kinds of people connected with managing forests and using woodlands.

I am not sure that I would change anything about my job!


What qualifications did you take at school/college?

I did 4 A levels in Biology, Geography, History and English. I also had 13 O levels (GCSE’s) including the three sciences and Statistics.

Did you go to university? Was a degree required for your role?

I took Rural Environmental Science BSc, MSc in Forestry and a PhD in Forest conservation and public participation. To be considered a credible scientist I think that these days a PhD is essential. It’s like the professional qualification for a scientist really.

Are there opportunities for apprentices within your organisation?

There are lots of opportunities for students to undertake college, BSc, MSc or PhD projects and collaborative research within the organisation.


What does your typical day involve?

My days are very varied. Last week I spent a day travelling to central government offices where I spent the day interviewing senior policy makers and others from agencies in the environmental field discovering what research and evidence needs they had and how these were being met. The week before I spent a couple of days visiting some woodlands and talking to representatives of community groups involved in managing projects in those woods. We discussed how we could measure the social and environmental impacts of the work they were doing. This will become part of an on-going research programme. This morning I had a meeting with colleagues to discuss the methodology to apply to an evaluation of a forestry programme supporting community groups improving the quality of urban woodlands. This afternoon I will be talking to forest policy makers about methods and data we can use to show what kinds of people have been using urban woodlands.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

Producing evidence or producing best practice guides (that come from synthesising evidence) which have a positive impact on how people manage woodlands and include people in the process

What are the biggest implications your work will/could have in the future?

Some of my work has influenced the UK Standards for Forestry, this affects nearly all woodland owners and managers. The work I contribute to on community forestry influences the development of policy in this area and has helped provide information and case studies that support community woodland groups.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field and how much can this be expected to rise?

I think starting salaries are about £20,000. This rises to around £60,000 at senior level. Salaries vary whether you work in the private sector or the public sector and whether or you work in a University or other type of research institution.

What’s the most unexpected thing about your job?

The chance to travel around the UK as much as I do.


What do your friends and family think about your job?

I’m not sure they really know what I do! Research, when it’s about a form of science that does not produce a real product, like a new medicine or new technology, is quite hard to explain and understand.

Would you say you have a good standard of living/work-life balance?

That’s a difficult question. My mind is always busy working and making links between real world experiences and scientific ways of characterising and describing things. My organisation has a strong ethos promoting work-life balance.

What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?

I like sampling and drinking real ale, hill and mountain walking, watching world cinema and riding my Triumph motorbike.

…and finally…

What are your aspirations for the future? Where do you see yourself in five years time?

Mmm … that’s hard. Perhaps finding more ways of putting social forestry research into practice. That’s improving on what I do already.

What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist?

The difference I made to their way of thinking.

If you had a super power, what would it be?

To fly. I love flying. Aim high and touch the sky!


With thanks to Forest Research and the Forestry Commission.