At FuturEnergy Ireland we are celebrating the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. As a renewable energy developer, we have female scientists and engineers across our team who work in senior management, project development, ecology, community engagement and GIS.
Here we talk to Emer Campbell, Portfolio Manager of FuturVentures, the early stage projects division of FuturEnergy Ireland, who has Environmental Science honours and master’s degrees. She shares her passion for the environment, which started as a child growing up in rural Sligo, and how it drove her career path.
How did you get into science?
I grew up in the countryside in North Sligo. We had a large garden in the country, surrounded by fields and an old ringfort. I spent a lot of my childhood outside exploring the natural world, which started my passion for the environment.
One of the memories I have as a kid is standing in the back garden and listening to corncrakes which were calling in the field below, something you hear rarely these days. The old ringfort also had badger sets and lots of nesting birds. It was a great spot for camps and observing wildlife.
I was very interested in plants and used to identify and document them using the ‘keying’ scientific method when I was a child. I generally loved books about nature and learning about the world around me.
Did this love of the environment transfer to your education?
When it came to my education, I completed an honours degree in Environmental Science at Trinity College Dublin. A few years later I completed a master’s degree in Environmental Science at Monash University in Melbourne and then an MBA from Charles Sturt University in Australia. I recently completed a graduate diploma in Planning and Environmental Law at King’s Inns and I also have project and programme management qualifications.
What was your first job out of university?
My first proper ‘sciency’ job after university was as a graduate project officer for a catchment management authority in Australia. I worked on some really interesting water management and conservation projects there in the middle of the Millenium Drought.
Did anyone or anything inspire you?
My mother was always very interested in the environment and conservation. It was probably from her that my interest began. She is an avid gardener and has a love for nature. I’ve inherited some of that.
What does your role as Portfolio Manager of FuturVentures involve?
A main part of my role is identifying new renewable energy opportunities and developing these into tangible development projects. The second part is to then bring these renewable energy projects through the environmental impact assessment and design process, and into planning.
How do you use your science background at work?
FuturEnergy Ireland’s project development cycle involves an in-depth assessment of the environmental aspects of a renewable energy project, which culminate in the production of an Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR). The EIAR ensures we are minimising any impacts on the environment from the project, while increasing our generation potential and contributing to renewable energy targets.
This part of the development cycle draws heavily on my environmental science background, while my business knowledge gives me an insight into how the wider business operates, and a more strategic view of potential business opportunities.
You moved into this sector three years ago. Was it an easy transition into renewables?
Many of my skills transferred well, I think. I previously worked in the water and environmental sectors in Australia as well as in waste management, policy development and strategy. I’ve always done some form of programme or project management, which has involved working with lots of stakeholders, communities and technical experts. I’ve carried these skills and experiences into my role at FuturEnergy Ireland and through my career to date.
One thing about the wind energy industry is that projects are very complex. There are lots of aspects and lots of complexity involved. That has been an interesting learning and growth opportunity for me.
It’s also an evolving space with plenty of opportunities. It’s a really exciting place to be.
What do you enjoy most about working in renewables?
First, I’m passionate about the environment so this job gives me the opportunity to work where I can make a difference and support positive change. Second, the industry and FuturEnergy Ireland are lucky to have people with broad skill sets. I enjoy working with a diverse team with different backgrounds and expertise, from areas such as ecology, engineering, planning and law.
I also like the fact that the renewables sector is growing and evolving. It also has clear government commitments and increasing support from broader stakeholders.
Do you have any advice for girls and boys who would like to get into science-based careers?
Invest in yourself and your own development and education. Don’t be afraid to make changes along the way, try something new, or avail of new opportunities for learning.
This one particularly relates to girls and women entering the science field: don’t undersell yourself! A lot of girls and women tend to downplay their skills or expertise. The person beside you competing for that job or promotion won’t do that, so don’t do it either. Be proud of what you have achieved and be confident in your own abilities – you’ll thank yourself later!
Interview: Janine Thomas