Tell us a fun fact about yourself
I write fiction and have had around 50 short stories published in magazines, books and online.
Tell us about your career journey so far
My careers journey has involved some changes of direction. When I finished school, I didn’t have a firm plan so continued on to university studying subjects that interested me. Being a skilled writer, I worked as a medical writer and editor, before returning to university as an academic researcher, working on medical technology projects. After about 10 years, I decided I wanted a change from working in medicine and started studying for a forest management qualification. Living in the Highlands, I saw a lot of forestry going on around the countryside and I was interested to find out how it worked. This did mean I was starting from the beginning again, but I had plenty of useful skills learnt along the way! Part of the course involved a year working in the industry and I enjoyed the work, liked the company, and when they offered me a job, I accepted!
What was your favourite subject in school and why?
Definitely science. I enjoyed doing experiments, collecting data and seeing what it could tell us about the world. Science also makes sense and appeals to my logical mind: it is facts and data, not something you need to make up an opinion about!
What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?
ICT: I work with various software packages – including designing apps – and advise colleagues when they get stuck!
Geography: Of course, I create maps – but we also need to know about soils and underlying rock, the local climate and how we expect it to change over the forest’s lifetime.
Maths: Behind the maps are tables bursting with data that I analyse so that we know how many trees are in the forest, the costs of establishing a woodland, what volume of timber is in the trees, when it will be ready to harvest, and so on.
Finally, Forestry: knowing which trees are right for which sites and how best to look after them.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
I get to help create brand new forests and look after existing forests. And Scotland is the best in the UK at tree planting!
I like that my job has a lot of variety: I could be creating brand new maps or altering existing ones; designing phone apps; tracking tree diseases; writing long-term forest plans or articles for forestry publications; testing out new tree measurement kit; or creating data analysis spreadsheets.
What is a normal day in your role like?
My day starts with opening up a map and getting to work. If we have a new project, I’ll mark out the site’s boundary, which is then broken down into smaller areas, usually by tree species. I’ll map streams and lochs; roads and forest paths. These maps are then used for planning by our forest managers and the government’s forestry body.
I also work with aerial photos taken by drones: sometimes I’ll look for diseased trees – we need to know where they are and how far it’s spread. Other times I’ll check on recently planted trees – I’ll look at the photos to see where they have been damaged by animals or insects and need replacing with new trees.
Or maybe I’ll create a phone app. Our managers use these to check on forest ecology (do they see birds nesting? Otters? Badger setts or squirrel dreys? What other plants are growing there?) and report on how the trees are doing, if fences need repairing, or any other problems.
And what does your job title mean?
A Geographical Information Systems (GIS) manager works with maps and information related to sites (in my case, forests). I can analyse the data behind the map to report on the total amount of spruce, birch or open space in the forest. My role also involves keeping myself and the forest managers up to date with wider technology innovations and making sure the company has the technology it needs to do its job well and efficiently.
Suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?
Have a go at planning your own forest. Download the activity: