Spring in Chicago

 

The new logo and slogan on the north facing entrance of The Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois.

Whilst I spend most of my time in the city now, since I work in the Pritzker Lab at the Field Museum labs instead of at the Arboretum, I do work at the Arb on Thursdays. During this time I’ve been analysing the data gathered from biomass and vegetation indices in R, working on a potential paper. I’m quite proud of the various graphs I’ve made, utilising the “ggplot” package. Since this is a group effort, we’ve taken to using GitHub to streamline our workflow. Although I’ve used GitHub to access other people’s data before, I’ve never used it to upload my own data and collaborate with others. The process has been largely straightforward and we’re making good use of the system.

I made an exception to my usual schedule the other week when I worked at the arboretum on Monday. This was because there wasn’t just any Tree Talk happening, there was a Super Tree Talk. Presented by Nathan Swenson from the University of Maryland, this talk was on the structure and dynamics of tree assemblages, from traits and phylogenies to transcriptomes and functional phylogenomics. Back at the Field Museum, I’ve recently also attended talks on indigenous archaeology and the root microbiome.

Just down the road from the Field Museum is Adler Planetarium. I’d never been to a planetarium before until a few weeks ago when I went to “Adler After Dark” with Diana. As you might suspect, the event was in the evening, at a time when the planetarium would usually be closed. Although there was a theme (game-night), we’d never been to the standard exhibits or shows, so those were the priorities of the evening. The two shows we saw were on the “Cosmic Wonders” of the observable universe and of the sky as seen from Chicago on that night. The first showed the many deep sky objects humanity has observed, including the incredible photo of 5,550 galaxies from Hubble’s eXtreme Deep Field, featuring galaxies formed just 450 million years after the big bang, and a photo of gravitational lensing on a galactic scale. The second pointed out the many asterisms and constellations visible in the night sky. We also were given a tour of the telescope and got to turn the roof – very fun. That night also marked the second time I’ve held a piece of the moon and Mars!

Back on Earth, I had a Skype meeting with the Tree Charter’s Student Council – a group I was chosen and have been volunteering for since early 2016. The organisation, which is affiliated with the Woodland Trust, are partnering with NUS to engage Students’ Unions around the country. I’m very excited to continue working with them in the future.

Public Lectures, Research Seminars and More!

Throughout the year, Edge Hill University hosts a number of public lectures. These are can be in subjects such as my own, Biological Sciences, or others, such as Education or History.

Banded archerfish (Toxotes jaculatrix). Lithograph, published in 1884.

Recently, my personal tutor and department head of biology, Dr Paul Ashton, gave his inaugural lecture titled “Contemplate an Entangled Bank” after the opening to the final paragraph of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Paul’s lecture was on the culmination of his work to date, from lime trees to sedges.

The Biosciences Department also hosts research seminars typically at lunchtime, as well as public lectures in the evening. Previous research seminars from this term were on biogeography (the origin of the Lusitanian flora), a rare genetic disease (Fanconi Anaemia), and how plant-atmosphere interactions shine a light on the origin of flowering plants. Although the schedule for 2018’s public lectures is not yet released, check back HERE for details! I attended Dr André Antunes’ talk, “Living on the Edge: Life in high salinity environments” last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. Also of note for the department is “ENTO’18: The Good The Bad and the Ugly” – an annual entomological conference which this year is being hosted at Edge Hill University during the 29th to the 31st of August.

The Geography department also holds public lectures in the Geosciences building, the most recent two being a lecture on coastal vulnerability to climate change and rising sea-levels, and perceptions of “Globalisation, Sustainability and Culture” in regard to “the Identities of old/new Empires and their colonies.”

Conferences and talks are held by the Faculty of Health and Social Care in their own building, as well as the Tech Hub and the Manchester campus – particularly for open days, where the Operating Department Practice programme is held. Conferences are also held by the faculty, such as the Digital Ecosystem event.

Education students have an interesting research seminar scheduled for early 2018 on January 11th – The Teaching and Learning of Britishness and Fundamental British Values, by Dr Sadia Habib, who has also published a book on the topic. Past seminars and lectures have included teaching in South Africa, lesson study, and educational responses for the future.

The Department of Performing Arts also has had many events throughout the year, two workshops of which were on Mindfulness and Butoh in Dance Movement Therapy. Another inaugural lecture was held by Professor Stephen Davismoon earlier this month.

Finally, students of English, History and Creative Writing have enjoyed lectures on The Politics of the Neo-Victorian Freak Show, how the illustrations of Sherlock Holmes affected the success of Doyle’s success, and “what it meant to be a girl in the late Victorian period and how women editors played a role in shaping the modern girl,” in a paper reading by Dr Beth Rodgers.

As you can see, Edge Hill University offers numerous lectures across the board of courses! I’ve found that attending these talks for my subject has allowed me to get an idea of which topics I find enjoyable both inside and outside the curriculum.

Biology Lecture Structure

When I was deciding on my degree, I pretty much knew I wanted to do one in biological sciences (where I wanted to study on the other hand was something that took me a while to figure out). One thing I didn’t know until I actually started classes, was how they would be run, and what structure they would have.

So during my first and second year studying Biology at Edge Hill, all my classes have had the same overlying structure – a roughly four hour long session with a half hour break in the middle. Most of theses sessions have been lectures, so that’s what we call them. But they aren’t just one lecturer standing and speaking at you for three and a half hours straight, there is interaction, there are questions and answers and activities.

Probably around two thirds of the lectures were a typical “lecture,” with it mainly being note-taking, PowerPoints and small discussion. The remaining lectures were comprised of other activities and lab & fieldwork – which were scheduled in the same time slot for my sessions. The practicals didn’t have a separate name and time slot on my timetable, neither did field trips, also I’ve never had a seminar during my time here.

Lab work may be scheduled around the typical four hour (including a break – usually coinciding with the Hub breakfast), but fieldwork cannot be chained down to such timeframes. Transporting all the students to and from a particular area, whilst having enough time to actually carry out some work takes time – these trips were usually scheduled over the course of the whole day, from around 9am to sometime around afternoon/evening. Unless we were going across the road to Ruff Wood, that is the length of time we would spend on fieldwork. A good thing about spending the whole day on fieldwork and traveling, is that sometimes we managed to stop somewhere along the journey for food, or to enjoy the view, as some of the places we managed to go last year were quite remote.

For more information on the Department of Biology, from students’ perspective, look through the Biology category on the Inside Edge blog, or the uni’s biology page on their website.

Semester One Biology Highlights

Since semester one has essentially finished (bar a few exams and reports being due), I thought I’d take this time to look back on my favourite parts of the modules I’ve experiences on the second year of my undergrad Biology degree.

Life On The Edge

Tech Hub

Life On The Edge (LOTE) is the new and improved version of the Environmental Physiology module from previous years, it deals primarily in microbe, plant, and animal extremophiles. The largest addition to the module was Life On The Edge Evening, a series of short presentations, by the students, on a chosen extremophile. This was hosted in the lecture theatre of the new Tech Hub. One of the purposes of the event is to test the students’ research and presentation skills – which counted towards our grade. Although public speaking isn’t my strong suit, it did give me the chance to bust out my PowerPoint skills – as lame as it sounds, I’m quite fond of designing the slides. However anxious it made me, I’m sure the experience improved my public speaking abilities and got me used to presenting in a professional environment.

Another point of interest for this module was the field-trip to Anderton Nature Park, where we sampled the salt springs for microbes and isolated them from the water back at the lab.

Molecular Biology

This module featured quite an insight into the techniques and points of interest in the field of molecular biology. My personal highlight was learning about epigenetics, as I already knew a little about it and was interested in it before knowing it was featured in the module. Google defines epigenetics as, “The study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.” This module was quite technical but very rewarding, in that the subject matter is complex but also very cutting edge.

Laboratory Masterclass

The highlight of Lab Masterclass has got to be using the scanning electron microscope (SEM). It’s an expensive piece of kit, so it’s incredible that the department to trust all the second year undergraduates to use it for our practical coursework. The assignment in question had to contain two images from the SEM which both had to be scientifically relevant, as well as a short report on the subject matter of the images. This practical was weighted quite heavily for the module, so it was imperative we used our time wisely on the microscope to get some impressive images. We could’ve chosen any sample with biological relevance to look at under the SEM, and being a fan of plants, I chose leaves. I won’t go into the details, but here are some of the images I didn’t use, that I think are still pretty impressive:

The course page for biology has a tab that gives an overview of the modules.

The Jump from A-Levels!

So you’re probably excited to come to uni for a variety of reasons, like having freedom to dictate what you do and when, and obviously the course! Hopefully the course is the main reason you’ve chosen to come to uni, but you’re probably wondering what to expect and how it’s different from A-Levels.

I can gage whats different from A-Levels at Degree level from my own experiences and from my friends/colleagues etc. So basically, the course you decide on will be a lot more focused than A-Level, as at college it is a case of only learning what’s needed to pass an exam.

Now at uni, some courses don’t even have exams (I’d recommend finding out whether your course does or not- it is worth knowing!!) and the uni also dictates what is included in each course, meaning that the content is normally is very useful. I found that this has made uni a lot more interesting compared to college as I know what I learn actually can be implemented and used in real life.

You will probably have less contact time at uni than you did at college (not always the case depending on the course and your college!) as there is a lot of time that is needed for independent study. This is the time where you go over lectures etc and look into them in more detail, as uni is meant to be harder so more effort is needed on your behalf!

So a lecture basically forms the basis of your learning, here a tutor will lead a presentation go over concepts and topics that are necessary for the specific module. Some of your lectures may be held in lecture theatres, which may be a new for students who have never experienced them before, they look like this:

image

So I hope you find yourself in a lecture theatre soon! Feel free to ask any questions you might have!