Unknown Pleasures Of Countryside Management

Chris Smillie is a lecturer in Countryside and Environment at SRUC Oatridge; we found out more about what led him in to teaching at SRUC and what his passions are outside of lecturing.

Chris SmillieHow long have you lectured in Countryside and Environment at SRUC?

I joined SRUC in 2012 from a similar position at Nottingham Trent University. Prior to that, I’d been working as an environmental consultant. The most recent position there had seen me based in Cairo, looking after the Middle East and North Africa.

What made you decide to become a lecturer?

As a consultant, I had been in a position of mentoring junior ecologists. After I had become freelance, I took on a contract giving some lectures. I found it enjoyable, although initially very daunting. Although I was training so-called ‘junior’ ecologists, I’d failed to realise these were coming in with degrees and often Masters. It was a challenge to then tackle basic questions in science. But I enjoyed this learning process.

How would you describe the Countryside and Environment courses?

As a consultant, I was often tasked with graduate interviews. Although many may have MSc’s in environmental science and the like, they usually did not have practical experience of bread’n’butter surveys. SRUC, however, tries to teach vocational skills. Real world techniques that so many other institutions lack.

What do you enjoy doing outside of SRUC?

My main passion is probably music, especially the post-punk / indie variety. If I’m not listening to Joy Division, I’m going to hear bands that sound like Joy Division! I’m also a comic book fan and partially paid for my PhD by buying-and-selling sci-fi / fantasy comics and videos.

What do you like best about working at SRUC?

I enjoy working with students who have a passion for their subject. You may think all students are studying their heart’s desire but many are just going somewhere with a vague interest. SRUC students, in general, have a real drive to work in their industry – seeing their course, not just as a qualification, but as part of their vocation.

Have there been any particular highlights?

I’ve been on some great study tours. In particular, I’ve stayed in a remote lodge in Norway, cut off from the outside world. I’ve also experienced the wonder of Romania’s Transylvania. A surprisingly beautiful country, living rural life the same way as they have for centuries.

What you’re looking forward to doing in your role over the next 6 months?

It’s always great to see students achieving beyond what they thought they could. To be able to take people with vague ideas about working outdoors and guide them into professionals that can plan surveys, analyse data and write management plans is very satisfying.

Words of wisdom to those on your course and to those thinking about joining the course.

My advice would be ‘follow the heart’. If you become good at what you do, you will not need to look for a job. Employers will come looking for you. A bad job seeps away at your soul. A good job keeps inspiring you.

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