About CSci

  • Prof Keith WT Goulding
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Prof Keith WT Goulding
At A Glance
Licensed Body: 
First Degree: 
BSc Chemistry and Mathematics
President Soil Scientist
Works For: 
British Society of Soil Science
BSc, MSc, PhD
Pet Hates: 
Questionnaires. Bureaucracy
Burning Ambition: 
Another paper in Nature.
In these days of needing to travel around – the ability to fly very fast superman style. Or have warp speed space ship
Big Picture
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
I grew up on a farm in North Wiltshire on the edge of the Cotswolds… a great place to grow up. I wanted to be involved in farming and agriculture generally, but not specifically agriculture.
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist? 
My childhood on the farm was probably why I became a scientist. Being an agricultural scientist enabled me to maintain an interest in agriculture but doing something I could do – the science
What do you love about your job and being a “scientist”? 
I love discovering new things about the way that nature works and being able to interpret those in a practical way to help farmers and agriculture more widely. I love doing something that’s relevant to current issues
What would you change? 
The amount of bureaucracy and the current level of funding
What qualifications did you take at school? 
For A-levels I did Geography, Chemistry and Mathematics
Why did you choose your first degree subject? 
My first degree was in Chemistry and Mathematics at Exeter University. I did it partly because I could do it but also because it seemed to me a way of moving towards the science of agriculture and farming
Do you have a Masters or PhD? If not, was it difficult to demonstrate Masters-level equivalence in order to achieve CSci? 
I moved into agricultural research via an MSc in Soil Chemistry at the University of Reading under Dennis Greenland, and a PhD in ion exchange in soil at Imperial College, London
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? 
I say that I work in agricultural research in particular looking at ways that farmers can produce food without air and water. People are usually interested because at the moment there’s public interest in food and agriculture. There’s lots of concern over food and environmental pollution, food security is back on the agenda etc. Soil is a critical part of growing food (90% of food is grown in soil). Good soil management is essential. I don’t start with soil in the conversation because that can be a turn-off, instead I come at the topic from the application side
What is ‘cutting-edge’ about your work? 
I’m involved in mitigating and adapting to climate change and I’ve contributed to various IPCC reports. I’m involved in looking at soil biodiversity using modern molecular methods: I interpret that kind of research in the context of better soil management. My work is very relevant to the current European framework directive and DEFRA’s soil strategy
What are the biggest implications your work will/could have in the future? 
My main focus is to improve food supply and security. This is in the context recently stated by the secretary of state for the environment at the Oxford Farming Conference who said we have to produce more food, using fewer resources, and reducing the impact on the environment. Our work is anticipating climate change
Describe some of the highlights of your average day. 
Highlights would be a research paper accepted by Science, Nature, or another top journal. It might be a successful grant application or a successful presentation to the public or scientific peers. Or a media interview
Describe briefly how your career has progressed to date. 
I left University and came to Rothamsted. I’ve been here since 1974. What I’ve done is unusual these days because research scientists usually move around to gain experience, but for various reasons I haven’t. I came from a basic grade (graduate level) up through the various grades until now I’m a head of department and I’m an acting centre director
How is your job cross-disciplinary? 
I trained as a chemist. But much of the soil science is biology and essentially unless you know chemistry, biology, physics and some mathematics it’s impossible to do research in a modern context
How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for your field, and how much can this be expected to rise? 
The basic salary for graduate level is between £20-25K a year. If they rise right through the ranks to head of department they can expect to earn between £60-70K. As a Director you can negotiate but no more than £100K. In many parts of the country that’s a good salary but in home counties it isn’t. It’s difficult for staff to buy a house in this area and that’s an issue
How do you see your field developing over the next 5-10 years? 
In the research institute it’s contracting. The current economic crisis means universities are also seeing quite severe cuts. This is in contrast to what I see as the need – there’s concern over food security, climate change, population increase etc.…all these things require more investment. It ought to develop quite significantly over 5-10 years but the economic crisis might constrain that
What’s the most unexpected thing about your job? 
I spend most of my time in front of the computer, despite being a soil scientist and still being involved in projects about soil science and agriculture. I do lot of office work and people management. It’s useful for graduates to know that people management is a very big part of any kind of job especially as they move up in terms of seniority
What’s the biggest achievement of your career so far? 
I have a Nobel Prize certificate. When Al Gore and the IPCC were awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, the IPCC decided to thank all those people who were involved with a certificate. I also won the Royal Agricultural Society of England’s Research Medal for my research into diffuse pollution from agriculture
Would you say you have a good standard of living/ work-life balance? 
Yes I think so. I don’t work excessively long hours or through weekends (only occasionally). Our standard of living is good but for Home Counties it’s not exceptional because work around here is dominated by the City and City salaries
What do your friends and family think about your job? 
I think they are generally interested and impressed by it because they occasionally see me on TV or hear me on the radio and they know that I produce research papers and reports and go to lots of interesting places overseas. Last year I was in New Zealand and Kenya. This year it could well be Brazil and Australia. Currently as President I have to go to the World Congress of Soil Science which is being held this time in Brisbane, Australia. At this stage I’m well-known and I get invited and paid to speak at scientific conferences. As a second job I have a consultancy at the university level. I’m a member of a sustainable agriculture advisory board and once a year we have a board meeting which could be overseas. Once a year we visit their suppliers in places like India, America, The Netherlands…anywhere they get their supplies. Last year it was Kenya and we visited the PG Tips tea plantation where we plucked tea.
What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax? 
Walking and bird-watching. We’ll often go away to Suffolk to visit the RSPB reserve at Minsmere
Why did you choose to apply for CSci and what do you value most about being a Chartered Scientist? 
I think it was because it supported my professional status and my feeling that it was important to have a professional qualification as well as an academic qualification. Although I don’t do as much consultancy work as other members, having the professional qualification proves that I’m externally accredited as being a competent scientist and I have to prove that every year. I do a fair bit of policy work talking to government so it’s very useful to have a professional qualification
What is the value of professional bodies? 
It’s useful for bringing people together, providing information and support, and encouraging them to continue to develop in their careers.
How important is CPD? What do you think of the revalidation process in ensuring that CSci is a mark of current competence? 
It’s essential to continue to develop and not stagnate. Having to complete CPD and revalidate means you can’t just sit there and assume everything’s OK. In a rapidly developing world that’s essential
Advice & Reflection
What words of wisdom would you give someone interested in getting into your field? 
First of all, obtain a good basic science degree because you can learn the applied nature of the work afterwards and we appreciate people with a basic discipline. Think about whether you’re really interested in research or the application of the research but don’t be afraid to change direction if you find that after doing research for a number of years you find that applying it to policy is more interesting because there are plenty of opportunities to move
How important is the mentoring process in your field and to you personally? 
I think in the strict sense I don’t mentor anyone and I haven’t been mentored. We have a formal line management system and good line management involves an aspect of mentoring. We do have mentors for those who want them and many find that very valuable
How would you define “professionalism”? 
Professionalism is having the appropriate basic training, combined with the ability to apply those skills and the knowledge in your field with continual updating
What would you do differently if you were starting out in your career now? 
I might make a greater effort to spend a period in another laboratory or in another country rather than just staying here because having some wider experience is very valuable
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist? 
I think that I used my skills and knowledge to improve the status and livelihoods of farmers and all those involved in agriculture
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