- Career stories
- What do researchers do? Career profiles of doctoral entrepreneurs
- Dr David Goulson, Head of School, University of Stirling
Dr David Goulson, Head of School, University of Stirling
Research subject: Ecology
I was interested in wildlife and in particular in insects from a very young age, and after my degree in biology at Oxford I felt it a natural progression to take a doctorate in butterfly ecology. I continued to work in universities and now am Head of School of Biological & Environmental Sciences at Stirling University. I also run a large research group focused on bumblebee ecology. I am a founder, Director and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (which started in 2006).
My doctorate prepared me in several ways for the establishment and management of the Trust. Besides the subject specific knowledge, it taught me to develop scientific questions and ways to answer them. The doctorate also enabled me to develop skills in writing and presenting information. These latter skills have been particularly useful in the Trust, as it is about communicating with people - giving talks and presentations, and being able to adapt scientific language to talk to non scientists. I can't think of any specific courses or training I took whilst taking my doctorate that have been useful in the Trust work.
I established the Trust because there was a need for an organisation able to take information from academic work published in journals about bee conservation and communicate it to the wider public. The Trust started with nothing, no employees and no members. Three and a half years later it has six employees and 6,500 members.
I found there were many challenges in the setting up and growth of the Trust. It was (and remains) hard to get to grips with the financial and legal arrangements required when setting up and running a company and a charity. We had to set up working systems and databases and we have also needed to develop policies - sometimes on the hoof.
I really enjoy the complete freedom the Trust gives us to make decisions quickly without the decisions having to proceed through numerous committees. It has also been really rewarding to watch it grow in size and develop tangible on-the-ground conservation projects with visible benefits to biodiversity.
For a start-up enterprise, ideally I should have had a suite of skills I didn't have. I guess most of all it would have been good for me to have had a general knowledge of how businesses operate, how to get the balance right when recruiting staff. At what point should a small business invest in staff with specialist skills such as accountancy or HR? How many risks do you take when future income is uncertain? I have made some mistakes but luckily not major ones - yet!
My career path has been slightly peculiar and evolved as I fell into one post after another and followed ideas as I had them. My advice to others is ‘go for it - what's the worst the can happen?' If you have some kind of idea that you believe in, you will find setting up an enterprise exciting and fun, although it can also be stressful. I guess I've been pretty lucky. For me, combining academic research with practical outreach has proved to be very successful, rewarding and fun.