Success Stories

Spectacular scenery and supportive communities - the Highlands are a fantastic place to work

Isla Mackay, ScotGrad

Geology graduate Isla Mackay talks about her unique experience as a ScotGrad in the Highlands, with community-based charity, Lochaber Geopark Association.

Published: 07/07/2019

Isla Mackay 1

If there is one thing about which the Highlands can boast it is their spectacular scenery. This inspired me to study geology, a science that explores the earth’s history and its rocks, and now I get to educate others on how the scenery formed!

Being born in the Highlands of Scotland and subsequently leaving for Edinburgh to attain higher education, this ScotGrad placement was a great opportunity for me to go back home and work using my geology degree.

My placement was with Lochaber Geopark Association, based in Fort William, a third sector community-based organisation run by a volunteer board of Directors with various backgrounds such as geology, education and business.

A Geopark is an area with outstanding geology with sites of national and international importance. The aim of the organisation is to promote appreciation of Lochaber’s geology and its international importance amongst visitors and local people.

Lochaber is the 'Outdoor Capital of the UK' and attracts a huge number of tourists every year. It is a fantastic location for all outdoor pursuits, and over the past few years it has been great to see so many businesses doing well and setting up in Lochaber. You just have to walk down the High Street of Fort William to notice the change in the area!

I had three main aspects of my project: to develop Geotours (Geology trips/tours around the Geopark), to roll out a new membership scheme of the organisation, 'Friends of Lochaber Geopark', and to deliver outreach education.  The first two were to generate new revenue streams to help the organisation become more self-sustainable.

At the start of my placement I completed the ScotGrad Residential Training Course, provided to all graduates on placements in the Highlands and Islands.  It was immensely helpful in getting to grips with the business side of my new placement. Having not had any business experience or training, the content helped me prepare for delivering my project. Throughout the year I also attended workshops organised by Lochaber Chamber of Commerce on tourism and marketing, focusing on the local area.

I have found this year to be an invaluable experience. Delivering these new income streams has had its challenges, mainly in the marketing aspect. Trying to increase the visibility of the Geopark to the public and locals alike has been hard with a small budget, but the rewards have been ten-fold. Being able to develop my skills in this area was an opportunity that not many science graduates get.

The Directors of Lochaber Geopark have provided me with support and knowledge in many areas throughout my placement; I cannot thank them enough for all their help. I was lucky to have the time to work on my geological knowledge, expand my business skills, learn to work in a team with varying backgrounds and improve my communication skills to all audiences.

Most people I have been working with are volunteers and their enthusiasm and commitment is inspirational. Community is key in the Highlands and working with the volunteers, Directors and other local businesses has taught me a lot about the importance of support in the Highlands.

In addition, I became a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Ambassador, which involved travelling across Scotland, visiting local schools, starting a kid’s club, lecturing UHI courses and delivering material to local groups to engage children in science. Geology is a great way to get kids into STEM subjects, and the Highlands has plenty on offer to educate children within relation to earth science. This aspect of the placement has been the most rewarding.

Working in the Highlands may mean that you get stuck going to work in a traffic-jam of sheep or maybe have times when the weather is wilder than that of the central belt of Scotland. Nonetheless, the Highlands are a fantastic place to work. During my free time I was also able to learn a new language, coach shinty, earn new qualifications, be part of the local athletics club committee and more.

Being able to learn and contribute as much as I was able to owed a lot to my placement being in the Highlands and in a small organisation, where graduates can make a big difference in the workplace. I cannot recommend ScotGrad placements enough.

Isla Mackay

Staff Geologist, Lochaber Geopark Association

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