In celebration of 20 years of Forestry at WIT, we talk to Enda Coates, contract forest researcher with Waterford Institute of Technology
Enda Coates is a forest researcher that gets to travel a lot for his work. From Sweden to Romania and from Finland back to Ireland, everywhere Enda goes he meets fellow foresters who care about the environment like he does. “International collaboration is a big focus for research projects. Forestry at its core is a career that is greatly beneficial to the environment,” he says.
What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
I write proposals to secure funding to carry out research projects, and when the funding is secure, I carry out the administration and paperwork as required by the funding body. When all those necessities are taken care of, I go out into the forest and collect data or samples, bring them back to WIT, where I work, and analyse them. At the end of it all, I write a paper or report to tell the industry about the results.
Describe a typical day
Every day is different, so there is probably not a typical day. Commonly I will go into my office in the morning and check emails to keep on top of the administration. Then I could spend the rest of the day either meeting with collaborators about ongoing proposals, sending results to business owners, communicating with partners on projects to organise data collection or events, or I could be in the lab running samples, or writing reports. If I am during a fieldwork phase, then it could be an early start in the morning to travel to the forest to take measurements and collect samples.
What are the main challenges?
Because it is research, I am constantly doing something I haven’t done before. Every project requires new skills. New data requires new analysis methods. There are lots of “how are we going to do this?” conversations. It is interesting but also can be difficult. But when things are figured out it can be a real accomplishment to know that you have developed new knowledge for the industry.
What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
From doing this job, I’ve learned how to write! When I started, I used to write documents that were very hard to understand, even though the data was good. This was because my technical writing was poor. But now I can take data, and explain it in a document in a way that people can understand easily.
Researchers get to travel a lot for work. In the past few months I was in Sweden at an exhibition, in Finland at a project meeting, and in the next month I will be going to Transylvania, Romania to present results at a conference. International collaboration is a big focus for research projects. Forestry at its core is a career that is greatly beneficial to the environment.
Forestry is a mix of applied ecology, environmental science, business, economics, and also incorporates some of the most advanced technology in any industry. In legislation, and in practice, forestry in a sustainable and environmentally sound industry. In my career, I have never met a forester working that has not fundamentally cared about the environment.
What's not so cool?
The administration is frustrating! I’m sure that is a common response to this question because nobody decides to start a career in forestry because they love administration. But it exists in every industry.
How did you go about getting your current job?
I got involved in research during my undergraduate degree. I had a clear focus that I wanted to be a research forester and so I undertook a PhD. My PhD was part of the Forest Energy Programme that was running in WIT. When I finished my PhD, I continued to work on the Forest Energy Programme carrying our further research and also taking over some of the administration.
During this time I also started writing proposals for more funding. Some of the proposals were successful, and some were not. I am a contract researcher, which means that I will only get paid if I have secured funding, so writing proposals arevery important.
What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?
Staying in research is a challenge, as the funding is not permanent, neither are the employment contracts. The pressure to move to the industryin order to get a more secure position is something that most researchers talk about. For now, I have decided to keep working in research as it is what I have invested my time into, and I have also successfully maintained funding.
Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
I grew up in a large town, but my father was from the countryside in Wicklow. Every weekend he’d bring me walking in the wood. I thought it would be cool to have a job in the woods, and not just be a visitor at the weekends. My lecturers in WIT always held their students in great regardand supported them to follow whichever direction in the industry they were interested in.
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Education and training
What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
I took music, geography, and economics. I don’t think they influenced me at all in my career path.
What is your education to date?
I graduated from Waterford Institute of Technology with the Level 7 Bachelor of Science in Forestry and then took the one-year Bachelor of Science Honours in Land Management in Forestry. I was awarded my PhD in 2012 for my dissertation on evaluating wood fuel production parameters from Irish Sitka spruce first thinnings.
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
So many things, it is hard to pinpoint. For instance, during my first year in my undergrad, I sat at the back of the class and thought “what am I ever going to use spreadsheets for?” Now I don’t know what I would do without them. During my fourth year undergrad, I took a chainsaw operators course, which I need for when I’m taking samples. So from computers to chainsaws and everything in-between have been useful.
Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
I would love to take the Geographical Information Systems course in UCC or a remote sensing course. But I haven’t got the time at the moment.
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
I ran an experiment of the comparison of harvesting methods and held a demonstration day for the public to attend. Over 150 people attended the demonstration.
What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
I can think critically about a problem and will solve it. It may take time, but the solution is always better than a future error.
What is your dream job?
My dream job would be to be forest owner who has thousands of hectares of forest.
Advice for others
What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
That is a hard question, and I don’t think I can answer it. But you definitely do need to be enthusiastic about research and find it to be your own personal reward.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
There are so many different aspects of forestry to research: harvesting and biomass (what I do), timber quality, afforestation, species selection, recreation, amenity, carbon accounting, wildlife, habitats, forest policy, and muchmore. So there is a wide range of topics to get involved in, so find one you are interested in!
What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
Getting involved in research projects during an undergraduate course would be very common for researchers. It gives people a taste of what the research community is all about.
These WIT Forestry graduate testimonials were compiled by the Forestry Careers Promotion Group to mark the 20-year anniversary of Forestry courses at WIT in 2018.