Sustainable careers – not restricted to certain disciplines – opportunities for PPLS students with a passion for the environment

We recently hosted an Eco careers week, with a focus on sustainable careers, and I know some PPLS students missed out on some of the events. If that’s you, or you’re curious about the wide range of opportunities in this area, and how to get into it, you’re luck’s in, as our great information team have pulled together a summary of the main event, Careers in Sustainability, so you don’t have to miss out.

Read Top tips from the panel of experts, watch the video from the event,  and explore the relevant links to find out more about this fascinating, wide-ranging and vital career area.

“Careers in Sustainability – Explore the World of Environmental Careers”

Our panel of speakers were from a range of disciplines and shared their insights:

  • The event was chaired by Professor Dave Reay, Chair in Carbon Management and Education, University of Edinburgh. He is also designer and editor of the climate change science website Greenhouse Gas Online and the Southern Ocean: Antarctic Seas and Wildlife website.
  • Stuart Brown, Zero Carbon Options Development Manager, University of Edinburgh. A Rolls-Royce trained Engineer with more than 25 years in business and entrepreneurship. Stuart now leads the team within the Department of Social Responsibility and Sustainability focusing exclusively on renewable energy and low carbon projects.
  • Kate Chambers, Recycling Advisor at Vegware Ltd, a plant-based food packaging company based in Edinburgh. Kate is also Chair of Communications with the 2050 Climate Group. With an MLitt in Environmental Communication, Kate is interested in finding new ways to talk about and tackle climate-based issues.
  • Rebecca Petford, Scotland Programme Manager, Environmental Association of Universities and Colleges (EAUC) which supports all universities and colleges in Scotland to embed sustainability. Rebecca is a University of Edinburgh alumnus with an MSc in Environment, Culture and Society.
  • Sandy MacDonald, Head of Corporate Sustainability at Standard Life Aberdeen Plc. After studying Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, Sandy worked briefly in book publishing in London. He joined Standard Life, initially working in a technical role, and completed a Chartered Institute of Marketing diploma. He now has over 15 years’ experience in senior marketing, communications, government relations and corporate social responsibility roles.

Their top tips for getting a career in the environmental and sustainability sectors were:

Get involved at university

Make something happen…you can find a list of relevant societies on the Students’ Association website.

Volunteering – it can help build a network organically

Remember, everyone you meet could be a useful resource at some stage in your career.  Check out our guest blog post from the Students’ Association Volunteering Service on the top six reasons for getting involved in Volunteering, and how you can find out more.

Jobs and networking go together

When you build your network, you can hear about more job opportunities. Follow our advice to make the most of networking and how to use LinkedIn effectively.

A career in Sustainability is not restricted to certain disciplines

You don’t need to be a scientist to be involved in sustainability! Be open to different opportunities to gain transferable skills and apply the theory aspect. Learning doesn’t stop after you graduate!

In need of some inspiration? Read this blog article from Andy Baker, a University of Edinburgh Alumnus, who studied Ecology and Environmental Science on his journey to becoming an Assistant Forest Manager at Tilhill Forestry – one of the exhibitors at our event.

“NO” stands for next opportunity

Try not to take job rejections personally as there could be various reasons as to why you may have been unsuccessful. Be resilient and continue to submit applications as securing a role can take time.

Next steps?

You may be interested in:

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An educational psychology career – get the lowdown from someone who knows!

A recent psychology careers seminar featured Heather Garton, Depute principal Educational psychologist for Edinburgh City Council. Heather did a great job explaining the role of the Educational Psychologist in Scotland, and giving an insight into the range of activities that make up the work of an Ed Psych. You can download her very informative slides at the link below.

A career as an Educational Psychologist

If you’ve got any queries about this career area, Heather is happy for you to contact her – her email is on the slides.

And if you’re wondering just what experience might be useful for preparing you for the Ed Psych training course, below you’ll find a list of jobs/experience gained by recent students on the Dundee course, before getting onto the course there, to spark your ideas – it’s not exhaustive!

  • Assistant educational psychologist
  • Teacher/TEFL teacher
  • Assistant in a special school / Teaching assistant / learning support assistant
  • Learning mentor / tutor
  • Early years worker, Childcare Worker / Nursery Assistant
  • Undergraduate psychology dissertation and placements
  • SureStart volunteer
  • Homework club volunteer
  • Educational social work
  • Youth and community worker/ Youth advocacy
  • Play worker
  • Childline volunteer
  • Parent advocate
  • Family support worker/ Child support worker
  • Camp counsellor (eg Camp America)
  • Children’s clubs eg Brownies, CHV (Children’s Holiday Venture)
  • Research assistant
  • Outdoor instructor/ Clubs/Sports Coaching experience

For more ideas, and where to look for opportunities, read the Educational Psychology section of the handout ‘My Psychology Degree, Where Next?’, available here.

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Get prepared to nail that interview!

Interviews, as well as essay and dissertation deadlines, and exam revision are looming large on the student horizon, at present, if the uptake of  practice interview slots with our Careers Consultants is anything to go by. Whether it’s for graduate jobs, internships, summer jobs or further study courses – make sure you’re as well prepared as possible to nail that interview. (previous students have compared the preparation process to revising for an exam!)

For the full lowdown on what you may face in a 21st century interview – take a look at this webpage on Interviews – Traditional, new and emerging formats – and how to prepare.


  • How to prepare
  • Different types of interview formats
  • types of questioning you may face – and tips on how to answer them
  • what to do – and not do – before, during and after the interview
  • further sources of support for interviews

.this webpage can help take your preparation to a new level.

Make sure you’re as prepared as possible for anything an interview can throw at you – including the unexpected!  Start here.



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Clinical or Counselling psychology – unclear about the differences?

Unclear about the differences between the work of Counselling and Clinical psychologists? Not sure which route to being a professional psychologist is going to suite you best? If so, you’re not alone! Many students find it difficult to sort out the fundamental differences between these 2 similar, but distinct, areas of the psychology professions.

Happily for you, help is at hand! A very kind clinical psychologist has taken the time to try to explain the differences, which in turn can help you to decide which is the most appropriate role in the psychology professions for you.

Counselling Psychologists tend to work with people who have suffered a loss (death, job loss, relationship break up), trauma (sexual, physical, emotional, neglect), or are having relationship difficulties. They do work with some mental health problems, but their approach is more about helping the person make sense of what has happened, using the therapeutic relationship to help them feel secure and explore social relationships / attachments, and a more Humanistic approach.

Traditionally, Counselling psychologists worked a lot less with mental health problems, and more with healthy individuals experiencing difficult life events, although they increasingly work more with people with mental health problems. Due to the nature of their work, most of their work is with adults.

Clinical psychologists work mostly, if not exclusively, with people with mental health problems – everything from anxiety and depression to psychosis and personality disorders. They also work in specific therapeutic modalities – they may use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, Interpersonal Therapy, Schema Therapy, Cognitive Analytic Therapy, Systemic therapy etc. All clinical psychologists are trained in CBT, and at least one (if not several) other approaches. Additionally, they may be qualified in a couple of specific therapies but will know enough and be competent enough to ‘borrow’ bits from other models to fit the clients’ needs.

The focus of Clinical Psychologists is using evidence based therapy models to treat mental health problems. Clinical psychologists also use neuropsychological and cognitive assessments, which Counselling psychologists do not.

For example, in the treatment of someone who has experienced a physical attack:

  • a counselling psychologist might help the person to understand what happened to them, how it changed their world view, what it means to them, how it makes them feel, and what they are going to do next.
  • a clinical psychologist is likely to formulate this as a Trauma and use a Cognitive Behavioural approach that involves safety and stabilisation, imaginative exposure, real world exposure (going to the same place), and relapse prevention. They may also borrow from bits of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy to help the person find ways of managing their emotions when the trauma is triggered.

These are two different ways of thinking about the client and approaches to helping them. It is not the case that one way is right, and one is wrong.

The path to both professional areas looks similar, both require a 3 year doctorate.

  • Clinical psychology doctorate training course – harder to gain a place as it is funded (fees paid), you are paid a salary (band 6 on NHS Agenda for Change) while training, and your placements are organised for you.
  • Counselling Psychology doctorate training course – self funding (you pay the course fees), and there is no salary. You also have to find and organise your own placements.

The experience you’ll need to get onto either course is very similar. Job wise, increasing numbers of jobs in the NHS are advertised for either a Clinical or Counselling Psychologist. However, these tend to be either entry level (band 7 on Agenda for Change) or main grade (Band 8a). More senior positions  (senior (8b), consultant (8c), head of specialty (8d) or head of service (9)) are usually reserved for Clinical Psychologists.

For more information on these career paths in the psychology professions, and how to get into them, check out the information on your Psychology-specific pages on our website – particularly in the Career Options and Work Experience sections.

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Getting into and working in academia – the highs and lows

Earlier in January, four academics from the Psychology department chatted to students about their route to their current position on the academic staff at Edinburgh, and answered questions about the highs and lows of their career.

Below you’ll find a very condensed version of what they covered – though hopefully it will give useful insights to anyone who’s considering an academic career, and who didn’t manage to get to the ‘live’ session.

The qualifications:

All 4 speakers had similarities in their qualifications – but also some significant differences. First of all:

The similarities:

An excellent first degree, followed by a Masters degree, PhD, temporary post-doc position, then a permanent position in an academic institution. All four stressed that they made contact with academics doing research in areas that interested them, and managed to gain experience and insights into these areas via this pro-active approach. They didn’t just wait for the advert, or apply to courses without making contact with academics and departments first.

The differences:

  • Some did all their studies in the same country (UK or US) – others went to the US for their postgrad study, emphasising the value of the support package in the US if you’re successful in securing a place on a PhD programme there. Plus, international experience is very valuable in academia, as it’s an international community. Use the Careers Service resources for investigating further study in the UK and internationally, including the US.
  • Some took time out in the job market after their UG studies before going on to further study. This can help to focus your mind on what future direction is going to be most meaningful for you.
  • Some studied different subject areas before settling into their current area – it doesn’t have to be linear, but being proactive and intellectually curious is important.
  • One person did some of her study and work part time, to give time for focusing on other areas of her life. Career progression was slower, though enabled a life balance that worked for her.

The highs of working in academia:

  • Being paid to research things you’re really interested in, and working with some of the finest minds in the world
  • Being your own boss – you’re measured on results, not ‘presentism’, and can work flexibly, as long as you deliver your lecture, mark you scripts, keep up your publication record etc.
  • Mentoring students/colleagues – watching them flourish
  • International perspective, collaborations and opportunities
  • Variety – teaching, research, mentoring, administration, management – all part of the academic role – and you may be able to focus your career more in one direction than another, depending on your own particular strengths and interests.

The Lows

  • Competition – the further up you go with your education and career, the higher the competition for places/funding/positions.
  • Rejection -you need to be able to cope with it (eg one speaker applied for over 20 post doc research positions, before she secured one ).
  • Finding funding – you need excellent academic results to get funding for PhDs. There is not much funding for Masters courses (though there are now loans in the UK)
  • The administrative tasks – which you’re not trained for, though expected to do, to be a ‘good’ collegiate colleague
  • You can work anywhere – which has its negatives as well as positives – the fact that you can work anywhere, can mean you’re always at work – writing, marking, thinking etc from cafes, airport lounges, flights, in the shower…..everywhere! It’s important to find your own means of ‘switching off’ – through sport, culture, meditation etc.

Discussion points

  • Where you study –  your post-grad institutions carry weight – the more prestigious the institutions, the easier it tends to be to get a post doc position.
  • Your supervisor – go for the best person in your field – though you also need to be able to have a productive working relationship with them, and their institution also matters (as it does for yours for your PhD) (this led to some discussion about which was most important).
  • Getting published is important to securing positions and moving up the academic ladder. You need to be able to face rejection from publishers too.
  • Securing grants to support your research will also become important – and time-consuming.

This is a potted version of the original insights from your academics, though hopefully gives you a flavour of the highs and lows of academic life, and can help you to identify whether this is something to want to think about further. You’ll find more on the Careers Service website here


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Why your psychology degree is so useful in arts administration….

Those pesky stats and associated software – SPSS and R – who knew how useful they could be in Arts admin?! You’ll never be daunted by Excel if you can master stats programmes.

And your critical thinking skills for evaluating your work, your projects and your motivations. Plus writing reports for your boss is eased greatly by your report writing on psychology projects.

Add to that the content of some of your social psychology courses for understanding of issues around access for all at events, and you can see just how useful psychology is in this area of work (combined with relevant experience in theatres and festivals, and a passion for this area of work of course!).

Read psychology grad Anna’s full story here, to find out how she is using her psychology on a daily basis in her work as  Events and Membership Assistant at the Federation of Scottish Theatre. 

And meet Anna in person at our Life Beyond your Degree alumni/student social event next Thursday 1st Feb. Sign up via Eventbright now to book your place.


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Finding a career direction via juggling multiple jobs….

Recent PPLS alumnus Debbie took an interesting approach to finding a career-direction that worked for her – she tried out 5 jobs at once! And she’s found it a great way to work out what she was really interested in and enjoyed (having started, then resigned from, a grad scheme which didn’t deliver for her what she’d hoped).

Read Debbie’s career story below, and her advice for current students trying to navigate their way through the career-maze.

And meet Debbie in person at our upcoming ‘Life Beyond your Degree’ social event for PPLS students  Thurs 1st Feb, 5-7.30. She’s one of the alumni coming back to talk about their experience of ‘Life Beyond’ university. Sign up now if you haven’t already.

Deborah Orr

Care worker/communications intern with Launch.ed

 LinkedIn profile  

Degree – linguistics, graduated 2016.

Current job

Believe it or not, I currently have five jobs! Three of them are zero-hours contracts (babysitting, tutoring and proofreading) which allow me to pick up a few hours here and there, but I have two core jobs which I work at two days per week each.

First, I work as an intern for Launch.ed, a company which helps University of Edinburgh staff and students start up new businesses. My role involves a mix of communications (via newsletters, social media and blogging), marketing and event management.

Second, I work as a Care Worker in a dementia specialist care home, where my job involves ensuring the residents’ physical, medicinal, nutritional, emotional, social and spiritual needs are met. A normal shift is filled with assisting residents with eating, doing laundry, running activities such as quizzes, carrying out personal care, and managing individual’s care plans.

Career history

 When I first graduated, I got a position in a graduate scheme in telecom sales. For various reasons I realised quickly that this wasn’t what I wanted to be doing long term, and resigned. Rather than rushing into another job I wasn’t sure about, I decided to take this year (2016-2017) to try multiple part-time jobs, as I am doing now. This has given me the time and space to learn what I value in a job, an employer, what kind of work motivates me most, and more!

 Using my degree skills and knowledge

 Much of the specialist knowledge acquired during my degree isn’t needed for either of my jobs. However, linguistics is all about communication, and there’s no doubt that an in-depth understanding of communication helps when marketing and creating online content, and when communicating with elderly people whose communication skills are deteriorating due to dementia. I certainly developed transferable skills during my degree which I use regularly in work, such as in writing, researching, analysing and time management.

Useful experience

 I invested a lot of time during university in gaining experience in a range of areas – working in the RAF and in hospitality, involvement at church and a little charity volunteering, and work experience in a law firm, primary school and a PR firm… If you don’t know for certain what career path you intend to follow, I really recommend putting time into trying new things out! You never know, you may stumble on something you love – but at the very least you will find out what kind of work doesn’t suit you and learn what you would value in a work situation!

Support for my career decisions

I used the Careers Service quite a lot by attending fairs, CV clinics, and workshops about assessment centres and cover letters. The University of Edinburgh is fortunate to have such a strong and supportive careers service, so make the most of it!

Advice for students interested in my area of work

If you want to work in enterprise, start attending some of the events run by entrepreneurship-focused companies and societies in Edinburgh, and try to get experience working for a start-up. If you want to work in the care sector, it’s important to be able to demonstrate that you are committed to caring for the needs of others, and that you are responsible and hard-working. Therefore a good place to start would be gaining experience in caring for others, either paid or voluntary.

Advice on making your career decisions

Make a job, don’t take a job! If you have ever had the notion that you might like to run your own business, get in touch with Launch.ed for some advice on exploring that option. Edinburgh and Scotland have a fantastic entrepreneurial ecosystem – the level of funding, support and community for entrepreneurs is incredible.

More generally speaking, don’t panic if you don’t know right away what you want to do as a career – but do work hard at gaining experience, and make the most of what the Careers Service has to offer.

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