Endings and Beginnings: Starting University

Three fingers as friends

So, first of all, before you move into Edge Hill halls, you need to know what to bring! Here’s a short guide on “What To Bring To Halls”. After moving in it’s time to be “Starting University and Making Friends”, so here is a piece on doing just that! Since I was in first-year, the Facebook groups for halls have changed slightly – now, there is a group for the whole cluster of halls you’re in eg. Back Halls, Palatine Court, not for the single building. Also, instead of it being managed by Student Advisors, they’re managed by a Campus Communicator – which for half the halls groups, is me! Of course, your old friends don’t just disappear after starting and moving to university so here’s my take on “Maintaining Old Friendships in New Places”.

Three fingers as friends

If you’re not someone who enjoys the packed atmosphere of going out, then you might prefer “A Night In On Campus”, board games, movie drinking games, or perhaps an Open Mic Night! During the first few days on campus, you might notice our the lovely “Birds On Campus” – I’m pretty sure there’s now the occasional heron by the North-West lake too! (Don’t forget to say hi to the cats and corvids as well, those witch-y familiars deserve love too).

After settling in during Welcome Week, the biology students amongst you might be wondering what’s next in store. Well, the “First Year Biology Modules” are the same across all biological sciences courses… or were a couple of years ago at least! Plus, the “Biosciences Cyprus Residential” field trip should be just around the corner, with fun and science aplenty.

Additionally, it’s never too early to start thinking about extracurricular activities you could get involved with that will help you develop your CV and yourself as you prepare for postgraduate life. So have a go at “Improving Your CV at EHU” and take a look at the “Fund for Student Opportunities” to see what you could get stuck into. Don’t let this all freak you out though, I know that adjusting to university can be a big step and know you’re not alone in “Coping With University Stress”. Take a breather; watch the birds. 😉

What to expect from final year?

As my third and final year of university as an undergraduate draws closer, I’m wondering how different it will be to second year. You might also be wondering what modules are available to you in your final year of a biological sciences degree. As I’m doing a Genetics BSc, I have four compulsory modules: Applications of Genetics, Genomics and Bioinformatics, Ecological Genetics, and Dissertation – Genetics. This leaves me with one optional module. Optional modules for Genetics and other biological sciences degrees for third-year include:

  • SCI3309 Biodiversity and Conservation
  • SCI3310 Tropical Ecology
  • SCI3312 Environmental Change
  • SCI3314 Current Issues in Biology
  • SCI3316 Pathology
  • SCI3318 Invertebrate Ecology
  • SCI3321 Pharmacology
  • SCI3324 Epidemiology
  • SCI3325 Ecological Interactions
  • SCI3326 Conservation Issues
  • SCI3329 Field Botany
  • SCI3322 Laboratory Masterclass
  • SCI3017 Nerves, Brain and Behaviour

Some of these modules are available in second-year, and some are even mandatory, such as Laboratory Masterclass being a compulsory module for second-year geneticists. Some of my compulsory genetics modules can also be taken as optional modules for other biological sciences degrees. More information can be found here!


Entering third year can be a daunting or scary prospect, it’s weighted heavier than second year (60:40) and in some cases holds the compulsory dissertation module. If you’ve been away for a year for whatever reason, be it for personal or educational reasons, going into a new year group may also be quite nerve-wracking. I was away last year on a sandwich placement and am nervous myself about entering classes potentially knowing no-one there. But if we could do it in first-year, we can do it again! There may be a bit of added pressure this year but it’s essentially the same, classes and studying, maybe less partying, and a more long-term project in the form of a dissertation.

The future is a vast and uncharted ocean, but it seems looks like smooth sailing ahead… Godspeed!

Biology Dissertation Fieldwork

Large-leaved lime leaf with numerous lime nail galls protruding from the upper surface

Since I’m entering my third and final year of my BSc Genetics degree very, very soon, I need to be thinking about my genetics dissertation. I have chosen to centre my research project on plant genetics and ecology – both in the field and in the lab. The organism of interest for my studies is the large-leaved lime, Tilia platyphyllos. Specifically, the large-leaved lime growing on its own (by which I mean, away from its close relative small-leaved lime or Tilia cordata, and the hybrid of the two, common lime or Tilia x europaea) in the South Downs.

Before setting off on the 4-5 hour drive down to the South East, I needed to request the equipment necessary for 5 days of fieldwork! After delivering an equipment list to a Technician, they will get it all ready in time for your trip – provided you deliver the list in advance, two days usually isn’t enough time! For my fieldwork, I needed a fair number of plastic bags, to safely secure leaves and soil; a handheld GPS unit, to record positions of trees; a laser distance measure, to measure the distance between trees; a measuring tape, to work out the diameter at breast height (DBH) from circumference; and a clipboard and pens, for recording measurements and marking bags.

After making it to the South Downs with Mark, the technician who would be accompanying me on this fieldwork – driving and taking samples and measurements with me, we set off into the wilds and tried to find our quarry.

Close-up of large-leaved lime tree bark

Our first day didn’t prove very successful.

After scouring databases for records of recorded large-leaved lime, I came up a little short but was still determined to sample from the area. On the first day, I decided to follow my hunches and check the sites that had shown very few or no records of lime but appeared to be the right kind of environment. Unfortunately, this was slow going and fairly unsuccessful, yielding us only three trees that day.

Fortunately, after shifting tactics to explore the sites further East that had more markers recorded for Tilia platyphyllos, we had a lot more success. Averaging around 30 trees from 2-3 sites per day, it was a pretty successful trip in the end. There were snags and hiccups, and my project may have changed slightly because of this- but that’s science! Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan, and that’s what keeps it interesting!

For more pictures of the trip, check this twitter thread, since they’re too large to upload here!

A-Level Results Day and EHU Campus

So… It’s less than a week until A-level results day! Along with A-level results comes the news surrounding university choices and we hope that you’re coming to Edge Hill! I’ve spoken before about Ormskirk’s striking familiarity and how Edge Hill University almost felt like home from the first time I visited–and with the developments that have been made over the last 3 years, this home has been refurbished!

Chancellors Court

Improvements made over my time studying here include the addition of new halls, from Chancellors South being completed just before my arrival, through Palatine Court being built whilst I studied, to Woodland Court being finished just before I begin my final year (in which I will be living soon)! Other improvements have been made in the form of the new Tech Hub, where I have been working during my summer internship, and the Catalyst – which is receiving its finishing touches as we speak – it’s been an exciting time on campus, that’s for sure.

Tech Hub

I remember this week being pretty nerve-wracking but that many people adopted almost a “win or lose, we’re on the booze” mindset. If you get into your first choice: great! If you get your insurance choice: still great (I remember all my top five choices I was pretty equally favouring). Then, if “worst comes to worst” and you don’t receive an offer and you still want to attend university, there’s always clearing! I’ve heard many anecdotal tales of people going through clearing and attending a university they either hadn’t previously considered or brushed off their list early and absolutely loving it. The sister of one of my friend even ended up studying something a little different to what she had originally planned and ended up enjoying it so much that she’s changed her career path.

All this is to say, the direction of your future isn’t set in stone, and unexpected circumstances might lead you to consider options you’ve previously dismissed or never had the opportunity to think about!

Happy Graduation, Class of ’18!

On the 17th July, the Biology class of 2018 (as well as other 2018 classes such as drama) graduated. This class was the one that I had spent first year and second year with – getting to know and studying alongside. However, because I chose to complete a sandwich year on a work placement in the USA, I effectively delayed my graduation. Whilst I was away, my friends were undergoing their third and final year! I may still have one year to go, but they’re all done and dusted–and graduated!

Facilities
The Biosciences building for Biology at Edge Hill

Since I’m doing a summer internship up at Edge Hill in the biosciences department, it was easy for me to pop down and see my former classmates. I didn’t attend the physical graduation or watch from the SU bar on the projector, but I did manage to see most of the class afterwards, even getting a few pictures with them all in their robes and hats. Just because I didn’t graduate at the same time, doesn’t make me feel like any less of their classmate!

Having not seen some of them in over a year, it was lovely to speak to them again. The day wasn’t without its troubles though – the university being filled to the brim with people and families was a little anxiety-inducing–and it wasn’t even my graduation!

Despite the fact that I should’ve graduated this year, according to the original plan, it still feels wild that I will (if all goes well!) have graduated a year from now… From then on, it’s a mystery where I’ll be! Although with masters courses on offer here at Edge Hill and casual work being offered over the summer like the summer internship I’m currently undertaking, maybe I won’t be far away in a year’s time–only time will tell!

Summer Fieldwork During A Biology Internship

As part of the summer internship at Edge Hill University, I’ve recently gotten out to do some sampling! Related to the topic of the internship, “Does meadow restoration conserve genetic variation”, this sampling trip was a test run for a larger project. A recent Edge Hill graduate, Heather Wickson, and I took a trip over to Wigan and met the Lancashire Wildlife Trust at this branch. They’ve an Edge Hill friend and graduate, Mark Champion, working there and also a current student on a work placement. The team over at the Wigan office, as well as Heather and I, were to help Elizabeth Sullivan on this test run. If we could get the kinks ironed out and prove that this method can work, then she hopes the project can be rolled out over a wider area, having people from other areas collected specimens for genetic analysis.

Setting off for sites such as Wigan Flashes Local Nature Reserve (LNR) and Low Hall LNR to sample Plantago lanceolata (ribwort plantain) and Lotus corniculatus (bird’s-foot trefoil). These areas were teeming with life, plenty of butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies in the air, no doubt a result of the extreme heat we’ve been experiencing for the past few weeks. I managed to get a few good snaps of some butterflies around the area – particularly the common blue. Although I didn’t manage to grab a picture of the dragonflies out that day, I did snap a good one on the first year biology residential field trip to Cyprus.

Since collecting these samples from meadows in the Wigan area, Heather and I have been in the lab, processing samples she and another recent Edge Hill graduate, Katherine Judson, collected a few weeks ago. These samples were of Rhinanthus minor (yellow rattle) and were collected from roadside verges down in Worcestershire. These roadside collections help build up the bigger picture, filling in the gaps of connectivity in meadows as part of Elizabeth’s work.

Currently, Heather and I are extracting DNA from these yellow rattle samples, amplifying them with fluorescently tagged microsatellite markers, and will soon be sequencing them ready for fragment analysis. After sequencing, I hope to help Elizabeth with the analysis and perhaps present a poster on the findings at the upcoming Annual Biology/Geography Postgraduate Research Forum!

A Biology Dissertation Proposal

One of the compulsory modules in third year on any biological sciences undergraduate degree is the dissertation. This module is worth twice the amount of a single third-year module – and with third-year being weighed more than second, this amounts to a hefty percentage overall!

Perhaps some books from the new library in The Catalyst will help with your references!

The first part of the dissertation that is currently due in late June is the proposal. Worth 15% of the overall dissertation grade, this piece of work is focused on designing a scientific project that suitably addresses an identified knowledge gap within a field, whether it be ecology, human biology, or microbiology. The proposal for the biology dissertations is very similar to the proposal made for the research projects in the second year module Research Methods.

Part A of the proposal is an overview including context – does this project build on previous works; why is it important; how does it fit into our current understanding? Included in this section must be the project aims and a list of references used in Part A. It’s very similar to an introduction of a scientific paper, which starts out broad then narrows its focus until it is focused on a concise issue.

The Gantt chart I used in my second-year Research Methods proposal

The following part of the dissertation proposal, Part B, is all about the implementation of the project. This includes a clear indication of the research questions being asked; the methodology; timescale; and data analysis. Things to think about for the methodology include the basic experimental design – what kind of sampling and measurements are being taken, how many replicates, etc – sampling strategy, and sites. The timescale is an obvious one, but it might be an idea to include a Gantt chart to illustrate this clearly. Data analysis and management cover the statistical tests that will feature in the project and the tables used to record the data. This section should also feature difficulties that might be faced along the way, for example, the problems I think I might face are identifying sampling sites with my target organism and learning new programs related to genetic analysis.

 

The final parts, D and E, are all about health, safety, and ethics. As well as completing these parts in the proposal, it’s vital that the separate ethics form is filled in to be assessed by the Biology Department Research Ethics Committee (BDREC)! Other additional forms that need to be attached to the proposal are, for example, an equipment list, lone working, and risk assessment.

There are a fair few documents that need submitting, but they’re all important and make sure you’re ready to really begin work on this big project. You need to be prepared for a module that makes up a third of your final year grade after all!

Let The Catalysing Begin

On the 10th July 2018 at noon, The Catalyst opened its doors to the public. Although some parts are still off-limits and under construction, the library shelves seem to be fully stocked and kiosks up and running, with reservations standing by for collection! Despite being freshly opened to all, it appears that staff have set up shop in some of the new offices already – there’s a very open atmosphere to The Catalyst, with many walls being made of glass, allowing you to see who’s around and if private study rooms are available at a quick glance.

The middle floors of The Catalyst house the library portion of the building and seem like a lovely space to work, with walls of windows that let in natural light (and offer some nice views of campus), plenty of desk space, and an exquisite helical staircase that definitely needs a “please mind your head” sign stuck on it!

The top floor has a large private room, access to the not-quite-finished rooftop garden and walkway, and many, many computers and single desks. I really like the personal space offered by these rows of desks and feel like they might be the ones to go first during crunch time before deadlines!

Back on the ground floor, there’s also a work-in-progress space with a large desk, presumably for group work, as well as some adorable study nooks shaped like houses! Also, there’s a whole corridor of single-stall bathrooms, similar to some over in Creative Edge. I was very happy to find accessible toilets for people of any gender in such an important new building on campus.

If you haven’t made your way over to The Catalyst yet, I hope these pictures do it justice because it’s an amazingly spacious new building. I can’t wait to get some work done there!

Summer Biology Internship

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, it’s been over 12 months since I’ve been properly on campus – with an ERASMUS+ internship in Sweden and a placement year in the USA, it’s weird to be back! However, there’s no rest for the wicked so I’m back on another internship, this time a lot closer to home. The biosciences department offer a number of summer internships aimed at second years who are progressing into third year. This year, 6 lecturers offered internships, in disciplines such as genetics, ecology, microbiology, covering organisms including plants, invertebrates and humans. I was lucky enough to receive a place on Paul Ashton’s internship, after applying for two of them (you can apply for two internships maximum) with a CV and cover letter. Being abroad at the time of application, I participated in a Skype interview – a strange experience!

The subject area of my internship is titled, “Does meadow restoration conserve genetic variation?”, although I haven’t actually got to that part of the work yet! Before I start on that project (being worked on by a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) and PhD student, Elizabeth Sullivan), I’m assisting on a different project to do with lime trees. This project is Carl Baker’s (a Postdoc Researcher). Right now I’ve been assisting in the final steps of DNA extraction, cleaning up the extracted DNA to try and get rid of any impurities in the samples. This process involves inverting and emptying a tube of liquid whilst keeping a pellet of DNA precariously stuck to the bottom – quite nerve-wracking to see your sample hanging by a thread!

Another unexpected aspect of this internship was setting up and running a session for the 2018 Edge Hill Biology Olympiad. The Olympiad is a series of challenges completed by teams from various sixth forms and colleges that come to Edge Hill University for the day. Each activity is graded and the scores released in a ceremony at the end of the day. I didn’t expect to be doing this kind of work but thoroughly embraced it – it was a great opportunity to push myself and see what it felt like to run a teaching exercise of sorts.

The Great Get Together 2018

Last Friday, on the 22nd June, Edge Hill University took part in The Great Get Together, a nationwide, weekend-long event inspired by the late Jo Cox. This year marks the second annual Great Get Together, which took place from 22nd-24th June. In her first speech to parliament, Jo Cox said, “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us,” which is the founding principle that the Great Get Together draws upon. MP Seema Kennedy also gave a speech on Jo Cox’s life and work. The aim of the event is to provide a place for people who reject divisive policies to come together and unite the community.

Edge Hill University’s Great Get Together event ran from 16:00 – 20:00, overlapping with the Ormskirk ‘Picnic in the Park’ event that lasted from 15:45 – 17:30 in Coronation Park. The Edge Hill event was, of course, open to staff, students, family members and members of the local community – it’s all about unity!

Another focus of Edge Hill’s Great Get Together was that it has been 100 years since some women were given the right to vote. This is a focus of the event since Edge Hill University are currently running the Wonder Women campaign – a series of events and installations across 2018 that celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Suffragette movement. For example, Vice President Welfare 2017/18 attended and spread the word about the Edge Hill Women Speak Out Campaign.

The event on Friday featured crafts (and face-painting), live performances (including music by Edge Hill Big Band and the Tick Tock’s choir) and a free barbecue, as well as stalls hosted by university societies and campaigns as well as community groups. For example, The Rose Youth Theatre group attended and performed along with The Women’s Institute and Edge Hill students; the Sustainability and Conservation (SCon) Society (that’s Rhiannon, Katherine and I!) were also there. Plus, who could forget the bouncy castle!