Matt Barker

Graduate Soil Scientist

Matt Barker

Graduate Soil Scientist

Which organisation do you work for?

Mott MacDonald

A day in the life of…

Either heading into the office, or grabbing my auger, site gear and Wellies ready for a soil survey!

How does your job fit within Soil Science?

My job broadly sits under the umbrella of Environmental Consultancy, primarily involving the promotion of sustainable soil handling on large civil engineering projects. We look at soil from a range of perspectives both in and out of the field, including as an agricultural resource, an environmental asset and with regard to potential land contamination.

Why is this an interesting area to work in?

The overall goal of our work focuses on the incorporation of Soil Science theory in practice, and ultimately trying to make positive environmental contributions to large construction projects. Marrying up the development of infrastructure with sustainable soil handling is being increasingly appreciated as a crucial part of this.

Why Soil Science?

It’s such a broad area of study, with so many interesting (and important) aspects to engage with. On a more basic level, I’m somewhat of a country bumpkin and have always loved the outdoors, whether it be through exploring or sport. This meant I quickly embraced opportunities to explore Soil Science during both my undergraduate and postgraduate studies.

What did you study?

I studied BSc Physical Geography at the University of Exeter, before undertaking a MSc in Soils and Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh.

What has your career path been so far?/ How did you begin your career?

I began working for Mott MacDonald during an 8-week Environmental Science internship in the second year of my undergraduate degree, before resuming work with the company after I graduated. I started with a focus on contaminated land and remediation, before switching my primary focus to Soil Science in general (including a greater emphasis on soil quality and agriculture). As part of this, I was very fortunate to have been supported by the company to undertake my MSc.

What is the best thing about your job?

I like that it’s extremely varied, with the opportunity for lots of travelling around the country, different projects, site-work, office-work and engagement with a huge number of disciplines, all with contrasting goals/perspectives. More generally, the job allows me to still connect with Soil Science academically as well as in a more practical sense.

What skills, abilities and personal attributes are essential to success in your job/this field?

It’s important to be able to engage effectively with people coming from a wide range of disciplines, with project success being extremely reliant on connected thinking between engineers and scientists, for instance. It’s also always important not to lose sight of either academia or real-world practicalities. In that regard, the job is fundamentally underlain by the need for problem-solving, which offers some really rewarding outcomes.

What advice would you offer to young people interested in a career in soil science?

Embrace it, because it’s an incredibly exciting time to get involved. From a job’s perspective, there are more opportunities than ever to form a career around the discipline, and so many angles from which to do it. In my case, I didn’t even realise that my current job existed until I got the chance to step into it, so it’s always worth trying to keep abreast of the types of opportunities that are out there.

Can you recommend other journals, magazines or professional associations which would be helpful for professional development?

Given the current situation, I’m sure I’m not alone in taking advantage of the huge range of webinars on offer by both societies and universities. I may be somewhat biased considering I studied there, but Edinburgh University in tandem with Scotland’s Rural College offer some great webinars which touch upon Soil Science from numerous different angles (agriculture, carbon, forestry and rural business, to name some examples).

If you could do it all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself?

If not, what would you change? It’s fair to say I’m still very much in the early stages of my career, but I’m not sure I’d change anything! I feel very fortunate to have found a career in something I’m genuinely enthusiastic about, and work with some great people too. Embedding my MSc within this was also a huge bonus.

Tell us one thing about yourself that not many people know

As strange as it might sound (or actually perhaps not, considering the interests of the audience who might be reading this!) I’ve got a real interest in ants. They’re fascinating little creatures.

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