Dr Helen McKay FICFor, Forest Research
Research has dominated my professional life – from measuring roots and pollen grains as a student to becoming head of Head of Centre for Sustainable Forestry and Climate Change at Forest Research (FR). As my career has progressed, membership of the Institute of Chartered Foresters has given me a range of opportunities to not only develop my own knowledge, but also grow my influence in the sector and shape the direction of future research.
When I joined Forestry Commission (FC) at the early stage of my career, I gradually focussed my research on improving seedling quality and then broadened my responsibilities to establishment, nutritional sustainability, and sustainable forestry management. This led to six years in the role of Research Purchaser and Policy Advisor at FC Great Britain. Forestry had just been devolved at that point, so my job demanded understanding the country perspectives and needs in order that we could agree the research areas to fund and the policy lines to take. I was also given a particular role to develop the FC’s understanding and policy on bio-energy. In 2007 I crossed the fence again back into FR with responsibility for biometrics, statistics and surveys; then sustainable forestry management. Latterly I have been made Head of Centre for Sustainable Forestry and Climate Change – one of FR’s two science centres.
While I no longer have time for active research, I do lead and manage about 50 scientists to deliver agreed outputs. I also secure funding to move the science forward to the benefit of British growers and processors. I have been on FR’s Executive Board since 2007, helping to guide the agency to support the sector by providing relevant sound research.
My involvement with the ICF has been three-fold. In 2002, Gary Kerr became Editor of the Institute’s scientific journal Forestry: An International Journal of Forest Research and asked if I’d join as Deputy Editor. Since then the scope, influence and technical capacity of the journal has grown enormously. Now, with Gary as Editor-in-Chief and me as one of 16 subject editors, the impact factor (a measure of scientific influence ) of the journal has risen from 0.54 to 1.87 in the last 10 years and the journal generates an income in excess of £80,000 to the Institute each year. I am also on the Board of Forestry Publications, along with the ICF President and Chief Executive. In these roles I have determined the forestry science that has been published, which in turn helps to influence future research. Also by maintaining high editorial standards we have ensured that the articles are accurate and clearly written so that they can be used as a sound basis for decisions by practitioners, managers and policy makers. In 2006 I was elected to the ICF Council representing Professional Members.
What has the ICF given me? Apart from some very good friends, it has provided excellent opportunities to learn about the business of forestry – in the private and public sectors as well as in operational businesses and management consultancies. Last but not least it has provided me with a level of credibility that was quite difficult to achieve as a woman having come up through research as opposed to forest management. I have no doubts about the value of my membership.