Insider Insight: Professor Ian Holman

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Ian Holman was appointed Professor of integrated land and water management at Cranfield University in October 2015

Professor Ian Holman
Professor Ian Holman
Did you see yourself in your current positions at Cranfield five years ago?

I didn’t see myself as a professor, but I’ve continued to enjoy the diverse mix of MSc teaching, post-graduate student supervision, research and consultancy that Cranfield offers.

Has anything surprised you since you joined?

Higher education is constantly changing. I’ve been surprised by the frequency of organisational change as Cranfield adapts to this. There is also the challenge of maintaining competitive and attractive teaching and research offerings to students, businesses, and governments.

What has helped you get where you are in your career?

I think flexibility is important. I’ve had to adapt my knowledge and skills to a range of environmental and policy issues as the challenges faced by society evolve.

Do you have any tips for people about to embark on their careers on how to be successful in the environmental sector?

The environmental sector is complex. Even if your expertise is in a narrow or single discipline, try and understand the linkages to, or influences from, other aspects of the environment so that you develop a system.

What areas of the industry are recruiting most actively?

Flood risk management continues to be an active area of recruitment for our MSc students, with opportunities in the consultancy sector and local authorities.

What skills are most beneficial at the moment?

Modelling continues to play an important role in all aspects of catchment management. However, the real skill is not in setting up and applying a given model (that’s described in the user manual!) but in interpreting, understanding and being able to explain the results.

Who have been your role-models/mentors in your career?

Professor Peter Loveland (now retired) – he project managed the UK’s first regional integrated assessment (the RegIS project) and demonstrated how to quietly, effectively and light-heartedly manage a multi-disciplinary and multi-institution research team to successfully deliver an influential project.

What stages of your career have been the most challenging?

It was difficult to make the transition from the cycle of winning and delivering short-term consultancy studies to winning the larger long-term research projects upon which a team can be built. Such projects are incredibly competitive. Developing the right networks is essential.

The most rewarding?

I have always found the consultancy and applied research at Cranfield the most rewarding – delivering work for a client who wants and values the work and will (hopefully) act upon it.

What is key to getting the most out of your team/colleagues?

I think having a shared sense of purpose is crucial. If that is the case, then delivering the required outcomes from a project helps my team members to develop their own skills, networks, visibility and ultimately their career.

What have been the groundbreaking instances or milestones in the sustainability field that have really changed the way you have to work? And how did you adapt to these events?

I’d offer two – one which is ongoing and one which I hope will happen.

Firstly, the implementation of the Water Framework Directive with its focus on ecological outcomes (good ecological status in water bodies) and its recognition that a broad range of management responses (within rural and urban environments and the river channel etc) are needed, rather than end-of-pipe solutions. This has required multi- and inter-disciplinary teams to unpick the complex behaviour of a catchment system and an ability to appreciate the human dimension of people’s livelihood and businesses within catchments.

And secondly, the Paris Agreement to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. To achieve these given current trends in emissions is likely to require transformational change in behaviours, values, diets, technologies, policies etc. which will need the underpinning science to provide the evidence base.