Simon Gibson-Poole – Environmental Resource Management
Simon Gibson-Poole went from a career as a code developer in IT to a researcher in remote sensing and geographical information systems after studying Environmental Resource Management at SRUC.
Tell us a bit about your past career:
My previous career was all in financial IT, transitioning from testing software, to developing it and finally managing code release and deployment to different environments (essentially managing how new code is deployed to testing and live environments). It was an enjoyable and challenging role with some opportunities to travel as a number of our staff were based in India, but I wasn’t the sort of job that made you feel as though your were making a difference, you were just making money.
What led you to make the decision to change your career path?
I had always planned to do a degree at some point in my life but didn’t quite get the grades required when leaving college when I was younger. However, as the financial crisis of 2007/8 occurred, changes at the company I was working for were inevitable. My wife decided to take voluntary redundancy and start down the path of getting a degree herself and I followed a similar path a year or so later. I decided on doing an environmental based degree as I am passionate about a large number of environmental issues and wildlife conservation and wanted my working life to have a more positive outlook and perhaps make a bit of a difference to something that I saw as important.
Which course did you study at SRUC?
I ended up selecting the Environmental Protection (BSc degree) however I followed the HNC/HND program to get there, completing an Environmental Management (HNC) and Environmental Management and Sustainability (HND) on the way. I then continued on to PhD level, engaging in research related to the application of remote sensing using drones for agricultural and environmental purposes (the bulk of which is now complete, just awaiting the examination of my work!).
Why did you choose to study at SRUC?
When starting out I was uncertain if I would be able to afford (or be academic enough) to complete an entire degree so signing up for a four year degree, with likely an initial first year being an access to science course, was not appealing. SRUC offered the ability to obtain interim qualifications (HNC/HND) on the path to getting a full degree and this fitted me perfectly, as I could complete just a single or a number of years and obtain higher qualifications as I went along, with the option of stopping and re-starting work if that became necessary.
Tell us a bit about your experience at SRUC?
I enjoyed the majority of my modules (there are always some which are not your bag but still need to be completed) and found the relatively small class sizes as a bonus as it allowed direct interaction and discussion with lecturers, something that is not always so easy with the very large classes you often see at universities. I also really liked that the courses were generally very applied, with a number of site visits for different modules to see how things were actually implemented or to apply knowledge gained in a field environment. There was also a good level of choice, especially with regards to your honours project, of either pre-conceived concepts you could choose from or by choosing your own path. This helped me greatly as it allowed me to stretch out and apply new technology to areas that had been covered during the degree course (for me this was the use of drones for environmental surveying) and ultimately this flexibility led to me continuing into further research.
How involved do you feel in SRUC aside from your academic course?
I found that I could be as involved as I wanted to be, with the opportunity always there to directly engage in student/staff decision discussions as part of the SRUC students association (SRUCSA), as well as the ability to be involved with events that SRUC are involved with from time to time (e.g. the Royal Highland Show) or other SRUCSA events. In my case I was a student representative for a couple of years so I could put across my or others concerns and I got the impression that we were being listened to and taken seriously.
How has your decision changed your life?
Completely really, as I am now a post doc at SRUC and am directly involved with teaching students as well as conducting research in the field (so quite a bit different from working in an office from 9-5 and just staring at a computer screen). There are of course some downsides as the pay is not quite as good (although not far off!) and the hours can be a bit more irregular (however I prefer this method of working as its much more flexible), but I do feel like I am doing something positive, giving something back to others and I am also enjoying my working life a lot more.
Tell us three words to describe your life changing experience:
1) Enlightening 2) Enjoyable 3) Fundamental