About CSci

  • Dr Mike Wells
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Dr Mike Wells
Featured Profile: 
At A Glance
Licensed Body: 
Scientist Type: 
South West
First Degree: 
Natural Sciences
Works For: 
Biodiversity by Design Ltd
BA MA (Cantab) Nat Sci. PhD
Pet Hates: 
Ignorant behaviour at any societal scale from the individual upwards!
Burning Ambition: 
To achieve global peer recognition in the field of 'ecourbanism'
Mass hypnotism!
Big Picture
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
A zoologist - was always fascinated by non-human animal life. Created a link with the mysteries of existence and the universe. As Dawkins said in the Selfish Gene ""let us understand the rule to which we so recently have become the exception"".
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist? 
Probably my father who was a great chemist and general scientist. Also I loathed argument as a child. I always felt that if we all had perfect knowledge of everything then we would logically agree on far more things!
What do you love about your job and being a “scientist”? 
1. The currency of money - will never be a millionaire but am paid reasonably for what I do 2. The currency of satisfaction of a difficult challenge well met. 3. The currency of absolute value - I really believe that the subject matter really matters and what I do is important, regardless of scale, to society as a whole 4. The currency of aesthetic beauty. My surroundings and what I look at all day is important to me. I love looking at wildlife and nature in microcosm and macrocosm.
What would you change? 
My inability to stop working at times and a tendency towards over-perfectionism. It is hard to achieve what they now call a work-life balance, when your work is your life and you would probably still do the same thing if you were too rich to need to work
What qualifications did you take at school? 
Had to look this up! I took 'O', 'A' and 'S' levels and Cambridge entrance. My 'O' levels covered English Language, French, History, Religious Studies, Biology, Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry and Additional Mathematics. My only B grade was in Additional Maths (typical biologist!) At A level I took Biology, Chemistry, Physics with Maths and General Studies (all 'A' grades) and 'S' levels were in Biology and Chemistry (Merits). In the Cambridge entrance exam which in 1978 made 'S' level look easy, I secured an entrance Exhibition to Gonville and Caius College Cambridge
Why did you choose your first degree subject? 
I chose Natural Sciences because I did not know exactly what biological specialism I wanted to pursue and Cambridge offered this wonderful broad-based but challenging general course - specialising over the three years. I dabbled with medicine, but ended up majoring in Zoology, my first love. However along the way I did as much clinical physiology as any graduating medic and much more biochemistry. At the end of the degree I was fascinated by behaviour and the underlying neural networks; but above all else the sheer stunning diversity of life and the beauty of it in form and function. I still have that childish thrill whenever I see a species for the first time. Seems to me to have something to say not only about how, but also why we are here
Do you have a Masters or PhD? If not, was it difficult to demonstrate Masters-level equivalence in order to achieve CSci? 
I have a Master's degree that is tradition from the days when Cambridge was an ecclesiastical establishment and the first degree was but a step on the way to ministry - that came through practice later. However I did earn a PhD - the hard way. Three and a half years of intense research throughout the year in the Outer Hebrides and three years writing up
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? 
I say that I am 'Dr Do Little. I talk to the animals!' If that does not work, I tell people that as a general ecologist I work on large scale developments and try and make the actions of people towards their habitat not only less unintelligent but wherever possible, actively inspiring! That usually either intrigues or makes the person move away!
What is ‘cutting-edge’ about your work? 
As I went through my education, I underwent a journey of focus from microcosm to macrocosm. Starting with Physics and Chemistry, then Physiology, then Animal Behaviour, then Behavioural Ecology then general Ecology, then human sociology and political economy! In my work I think that the desire to cut across disciplines between ecology and traditionally 'humanocentric' endeavours including architecture and landscape architecture is something relatively new
What are the biggest implications your work will/could have in the future? 
Its contribution to the new movement of 'ecourbanism' - living in sustainable cities in an harmonious relationship with the natural systems that support us
Describe some of the highlights of your average day. 
Its contribution to the new movement of 'ecourbanism' - living in sustainable cities in an harmonious relationship with the natural systems that support us
Describe briefly how your career has progressed to date. 
From a start in theoretical research on Darwin's finches in the Galapagos and onto a PhD and Demonstrator work, I became more and more concerned about poorly planned resource use and development. My first 'proper' job was with an Environmental Consultancy in Bath, which employs ecologists, landscape architects, environmental scientists and graphic designers. Being a general ecologist seemed both crazy and more or less impossible. But over time I have grown into the ecological consultancy role, by moving from ecologist, to senior ecologist to Associate Director to, now, Director of my own company (over about 15 years). Over this time I have made a personal study of the role of the consultant in development planning and both published and lectured on the subject, emphasising the fact that as a Consultant you hold all the cards - it just depends on how you use them to achieve the best sustainable outcome for all
How is your job cross-disciplinary? 
We work directly and in detail from masterplanning to detailed design with architects, landscape architects, engineers, hydrologists, environmental scientists, archaeologists, historians, social scientists and artists! In undertaking Environmental Impact Assessment - nothing is left out. I look to make the results of my ecological scientific work relevant to and useable by these other disciplines
How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for your field, and how much can this be expected to rise? 
Ecological consultancy is now about par with many other environmental professions and data may be obtained from several central sources e.g. www. prospects.ac.uk
How do you see your field developing over the next 5-10 years? 
More and more will join the profession. Further guidance will be produced increasing the need for training and professionalism still further. In particular the issue of Climate Change will dominate environmental practice in various ways as addressing it becomes a more and more active societal and government pre-occupation
What’s the most unexpected thing about your job? 
That it was in fact possible to become a general ecologist in the 21st Century, when research training suggests that only detailed specialisms can have any intrinsic merit
What’s the biggest achievement of your career so far? 
Probably the securing of my PhD based on 3.5 years of hard field research under testing conditions in the Outer Hebrides. In paid employment, I guess that it was being made visiting Research Fellow of Bath School of Architecture for my cross-disciplinary contribution to teaching on green infrastructure and ecourbanism
Would you say you have a good standard of living/ work-life balance? 
Not really. My life is my work in many ways. However, I do follow the work hard play hard principle and know how to party. The choices I have made are not those for the half-committed or half-hearted
What do your friends and family think about your job? 
Most think it is worthwhile and envy the fact that I love what I do.
What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax? 
I believe in attending a really nice gymnasium with a beautiful view of the country when the weather is too bad to actually run outdoors. I also love to SCUBA dive when I get the chance. I have been diving for years and have my Advance Open Water and Nitrox certificates, but I need more time to really indulge - while there still coral reefs unbleached and seagrass beds unsilted to see, that is!
Why did you choose to apply for CSci and what do you value most about being a Chartered Scientist? 
I am not a theoretical research or even an applied research scientist any more, but I am the son of very good one; and did prove that I was capable of rigorous thought and original scientific research in doing my PhD. I have since become more of a generalist, but still hold to a core of scientific training that has never left me and which I consider vital to my integrity as an ecologist when speaking with and trying to bridge the gap to those in other disciplines. I also try to bring science back into applied ecological consultancy whenever I can, and was part of the team that wrote the national guidelines on ecological impact assessment, which raised the scientific content and consistency of such assessments
What is the value of professional bodies? 
This can vary and professional bodies that become self-serving and complacent cease to have much value. However, at their core, professional bodies are absolutely essential to ensure that standards are maintained, both technical and ethical, and that pay (especially in the environmental sphere) can reflect the years of study that makes a good career scientist or consultant. They are also extremely useful for exchange of ideas, peer review and keeping in touch with core and related disciplines in a world that is ridiculously burgeoning with scientific data - more data being produced each day, month and year at a frighteningly increasing rate
How important is CPD? What do you think of the revalidation process in ensuring that CSci is a mark of current competence? 
A good scientist should not need a formal system of CPD as formal and informal CPD should naturally form far more of his or her life than any Institute currently prescribes. Those who are not in this category do need to consider whether they are in the right career. On the other hand formal CPD requirements of Institutes do force the less enlightened employers to provide at least some training funding to their staff over the year. Revalidation is probably a necessity when so many more are entering scientific and consultancy trades than are really committed to them
Advice & Reflection
What words of wisdom would you give someone interested in getting into your field? 
Do what you do because you seek all four currencies of value described above; but most of all do it because you love it and care. Strive to be very good at it, and realise that to achieve success you often need to find a circular route that cajoles, encourages and convinces others through multiple arguments, rather than the steam train approach of the zealot! Remember that science is a calling not a job and do not think it happens only between 9 am and 5 pm. You have to live and breathe your subject
How important is the mentoring process in your field and to you personally? 
It is vital in so many ways. As an employer now I take the job of nurturing the careers of other very seriously indeed. I experienced both good and bad mentoring in my career. Bad mentoring will generally slow you down and can encourage one to waste years of ones life. At worst it can turn you away from a subject you once felt passionately about. Select your mentors and role models with care. Find out not only about their scientific prowess but also, if you can, their humanity
How would you define “professionalism”? 
Doing work in a way that you wish would wish to see it done if your own safety and happiness depended on the results being right and the presentation appropriate
What would you do differently if you were starting out in your career now? 
I would have chosen my mentors with greater care and spent more time obtaining basic business skills. I love my new Practice, but should have started it at least five years before I did
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist? 
That I strove to convey and apply the science I know to the real long-term benefit of the environment and society in a way that also creates economic value
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