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!

Changes: First to Second Year

End the end of second year, a number of things had changed since the end of first year – surprisingly, time does that. Over the course of the year, many opportunities presented themselves to me. First of all was this, the position as a student blogger! It’s been a worthwhile endeavour not only to contribute to my university but also to diversify my skills. Being in a STEM field, I don’t do this kind of writing all that often, so this was definitely beneficial for me.

 

My course, in fact, also changed. At the end of first year, I decided to switch from straight Biology to Ecology and Conservation, however, not even a week later, I made up my mind and chose to specialise into Genetics instead. Ultimately, it all came down to module choices and which course allowed me to take my preferred selection of modules. You may come to the end of your first year and realise that another field entirely is calling to you, in which case you may be able to make an interdisciplinary transfer. I have two friends who have transferred from Creative Writing to Human Biology and from Games Programming to Music Production!

As for my societies, I remained in the LGBT society, but I became less active in the volleyball club and more active in the historical reenactment society. Towards the end of the year however, my dedication was primarily with the newly minted sustainability society, and mainly on the allotment that we have given new life. Next year I may join the climbing society, who knows what’ll happen!

Another change from first to second year is accommodation, since I lived in halls for my first year (the lovely chancellor’s court), and had moved into a rented student house for my second year, sharing with one former hallmate, one coursemate, and two others from the year above who my hallmate knew well from societies.

Now, two years after first attending Fresher’s Week on campus, I am in Illinois, USA, acting as a research affiliate for the Morton Arboretum during my sandwich year. Not only that but I completed an Erasmus internship over the summer in Sweden. There are many opportunities for engagement, change, and evolution at Edge Hill University. I’ve been lucky enough to experience quite a few of them and you may too!

Erasmus Reflection

Roughly two months ago, I wrote a post about my experience with the ERASMUS+ program at Edge Hill University – both how I go onto the program, and my first week abroad. Since I have now completed my internship at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in Umeå, here is a rundown of the main scientific events.

A window trap successfully hung in a forest in Gällivare

For roughly a week, I got to spend time up in Gällivare, a town in the far north of Sweden. The purpose of this was to set up a whole load of window traps, used to collect insects over the spring, thus gaining an idea of the ecosystem and biodiversity of the area. Since Spring came late this year, there was plenty of snow still on the ground, especially in the forested areas we were trekking through.

As well as the far-flung Gällivare, there were some sites closer to Umeå that I got to explore. They helped me get an idea of the kind of places where ecological work takes place, and also helped me visualise some of the specific work that SLU are undertaking. Two sites were to do with the “fish people” of SLU, a river a the coast, where fish were captured, tagged, and released. Another example was a plantation forest where some of the work required it to be partially cleared in a specific way. From one of these sites, we collected beetles.

The beetles, ah the beetles. The last month of my internship was spent almost exclusively with the phratora. The beetles were used to test whether a certain species of wild plant would “smell” different to its genetically modified counterpart, and the beetles collected are known to graze on that species of plant. This was a great look into real ecological work, from collecting and caring for the species to running and collecting data from an actual experiment.

Another experiment I helped out on was part of a global study. This study set out to test how fast logs would decompose around the world. I assisted in collecting the logs from the mosquito-ridden site where they were being kept, and then regularly checking the weight of the logs over a number of weeks whilst they were being dried. Unfortunately, the logs had not finished drying by the time my internship was up, so I didn’t get to carry out any further tests on the logs.

ERASMUS+ Procedure and My Experience So Far

As I’ve mentioned before, the biosciences department currently have links to a few other universities in Europe with which the ERASMUS+ program is available. They exist in Sweden, Cyprus as well as potentially Germany. I have so far completed my first week of placement at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in Umeå, with a fellow coursemate.

There was a fairly substantial interest in the program across my year group, so after applications were processed, interviews were held. The Erasmus Program Leader from the department, as well as the International Office, were both present to ask a few questions. After that, if you are selected, it’s a matter of waiting and filling in the relevant paperwork when the time comes. Make sure you fill this in as quickly as possible! The sooner you do this, the sooner you get approval to book flights and finalise accommodation. Which is an issue if you are staying in Umeå.

SLU, Umeå, Sweden,

Housing is hard to come by in Umeå, and can be expensive. The two options that might be best are either: staying in a current researcher’s residence with them or in their place if they are away during the summer; or staying in a student’s accommodation after they have moved out for the summer. For our Erasmus placement this year, we’ve had to stay in a hostel for a week, although will be staying in a current researcher’s apartment while they are away for the rest of the summer.

Despite the hostel, it’s been a good first week – I’ve got to know the city as well as fellow colleagues and have even managed to go clubbing and meet some new people here! If you’re so inclined, I’d recommend the pub/restaurant Droskan and the Take Queer event. Also if you are around for the end of semester, the festival Brännbollsyran which hosts music and a rounders-like tournament should be something you look into before going. Now that the introductory week is over, we’re off up to Gällivare to get stuck in with some real hands-on research!


If you want to stay updated with my adventures in Sweden with SLU, then you can check out my blog dedicated to it.

Biology – Second Year Decisions

With the summer term of second year approaching, many people have had to decide on a number of future ventures – third year modules, dissertation topics, and perhaps summer placements. So, in chronological order I present to you – the recent decisions of biosciences students.

Erasmus

Although not a particularly​ recent event, it does pertain to the summer activities of the biology students and affects their summer plan. Back in term one, details of the ERASMUS+ program were announced and applications were accepted. The ERASMUS+ program is a europe-wide student exchange of sorts. In the case of the biology department, there are two institutes that currently offer summer placements for students: The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), and The Cyprus University of Technology (CUT). I have been lucky enough to be offered a placement at SLU, where the department that our own biology department is currently in contact with is the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies. The kind of activities that occur during placements here consist of bird, fish, invert, forest, and fire ecology, as well as research into genetically modified trees. Since I am to be abroad during the summer, I cannot be present at our very own Edge Hill University (EHU) to take part in the internships hosted closer to home.

Internships

A more recent decision to be made regarding the summer break is whether or not you would like to work an internship. Currently, the university offers​ a number of summer internships for students to assist in research with the lecturers. Since I was already due to be away over summer, I have experienced this process as a third-party of sorts as my fellow students have applied. Numerous topics are available with various lecturers, for instance: microbial genetics, extremophile microbial genetics, vector biology, dermatogenetics, conservation, and forest ecology. After the long summer, students will head back as third years and begin their new modules.

Module Choices

Third year, currently weighted slightly more than second year, will consist of new modules to those studied in the second year. A full list of modules (and who came take them depending on course) can be found on the relevant course pages in the biology section of the EHU websiteSome modules may be available to choose in second or third year, which is a wonderful idea, as it allows further customisation of your course – allowing you to choose a full range of modules relevant to your degree focus. Of course, the big one – the dissertation module, is a module you must choose for third year.

Dissertation

With a wide range of courses and lecturers, comes a wide range of topics for dissertations. As tutors are limited to a select number of students per individual, they are allocated as fairly as possible to the topics you have expressed interest in. Since deciding on your dissertation topic may seem like a herculean task when presented with so many options, help had been provided in the form of suggested topics and questions, and the option to begin research in the summer. So far, the department have been very helpful in assisting in our decision – with lecturers coming to pitch their topics and inspire us.

So how big is the intern pool?

hSo this week has been a little stressful to say the least. In fact it’s getting to the point where no amounts of Harry Styles swooning can pick up a girl back up.
For the first time in my life swimming around the dating pool has been pushed aside and I’ve attempted to dive head first into what I call the ‘Internship/Placement Pool’, and let me tell you…its pretty shallow…and when I say dive I mean more like an ungraceful bomb.
Now I wouldn’t describe my self as a totally naive air head, but I did think that at least one of the 25+ placements I’ve applied for would have jumped at the chance of a free designer  and hard worker, but sadly not thus far, and I’m starting to realise how seriously shallow this pool is and how many other people are trying to swim and managing to drown in it too. I’m not trying to apply for any fancy pants internships either, I’ve tried small and large design companies from london to all over the south, but so many companies just don’t have the space or time to take people on for work experience. Don’t get me wrong not all the replies have been totally negative, some have given really positive feedback but just don’t fit around my times or just don’t have the space to take people on, and it does start to get you down after a while.
I’m starting to realise I’m going to need some help serious help and this is where Student Services come in. The best advice I’ve had so far is ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’, so as soon as I get back to Ormskirk in September I’m going straight there to find out what connections the University have and how I can use them to find a good placement. I’ve also been contacting all the family, friends and friends family I know in media or design industries to help me try an get some good contacts! I’ve heard so many good things from peers about Student Services for this kind of thing, and everyone says they are so helpful, so I can’t wait to get in touch with them!

For any fellow placement searchers out there, don’t give up hope, we will get there!