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Undergraduate Research Intern
About the placement/internship

Why did you decide to do a placement/internship?

I have been interested in marine biology since I was a child but I had no experience of what working in a lab in this area would be like. I wanted to work somewhere that would give me a realistic idea of what a career in marine biology might entail.

How did you find your placement/internship?

I emailed Professor Roberto Salguero-Gomez directly and he said that as long as I was able to gain external funding he would be willing to take me on.

Application process

I sent out an email to Professor Salguero-Gomez and Dr Pol Capdevila expressing an interest in gaining experience in a zoology lab. He said he would accept me for a lab rotation over the summer as long as I was able to gain external funding to be able to support myself. I applied to several grants and I managed to secure 4500 in order to support myself and replace my wages.

What made you choose this organisation for your placement/internship?

It is a world leading academic research organisation which made it perfect for gaining experience in an academic research lab. I am interested in applying to PhD courses so the skills I learnt from this lab has been invaluable.

Main responsibilities

I was involved in a wide variety of things including working on my own independent research projects as well as contributing to ongoing research:
- I carried out a research project on the conservation of Right Whales through the use of demographic tools and preexisting data in COMADRE and other literature
- I carried out a functional traits project where I was attempting to collect traits and corresponding data that would allow the comparison of organisms beyond taxa eg. marine vs terrestrial or plants vs animals.
- I contributed to an ongoing project called sAPROPOS which was funded by the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv)Halle-Jena-Leipzig. The aim of this project was to explore the impact of climatic drivers on vital rates of all mammals. In my independent project I focused on marine and semi-aquatic mammals.
- I carried out a week of fieldwork at Wytham Woods in order to collect plant trait data for Sara Middleton's PhD project. I wrote a blog post on the lab website for it which you can find on this link:

Typical day

Everyday was different and overall the work was very varied. One day I could be working on some code for R in order to extract data from different databases, another I would be focused on demographic models and the mathematics behind them. Some days were packed with meetings with researchers or my supervisors whereas others I would be working independently, reading papers or writing up my reports.

What did I enjoy about my placement/internship?

I really enjoyed being able to contribute to real ongoing research. Our supervisors did not treat us any differently to any of the senior researchers in their labs and in fact encouraged us to contribute and ask questions. The fact that i was able to tailor my internship to focus on marine biology was really special because I didn't expect that type of flexibility in such an intense research environment. The fact that i was able to pack every single day of this nearly 4 month experience with amazing experiences such as going to Cadiz for a writing retreat was absolutely amazing. Not only were the experiences i learned really useful but also extremely fun because i was doing work on something i am truly passionate about.

Challenging aspects

The challenge was to adjust to the new subject material. There were a lot of new things to learn in the ecology, demography and R that i had never come close to covering as part of my Biomedical Science background. However, my supervisors and everyone around me were more than happy to help whenever I needed it.

Did you use any skills learned from your course?

I am being able to use some the research skills I gained doing my right whale project as part of my current dissertation. It has made going through scientific papers much less daunting and the fact that I have contributed to research being done by world leaders in the field has given me the confidence to pursue a PhD in the future.

Has your time on placement influenced your future career choice?

I now know that marine biology research is something that I really like so I would definitely like to a career in this sector.

As a result of your placement/internship, what are your next steps in planning what you want to do after graduation?

My placement has allowed me to come in contact with some of the brightest minds in their respective field and talking to them has given me a good idea about what my next steps are for the future. I want to pursue post graduate education and I have been able to make many connections which has made it a little easier to reach out to potential supervisors.

Advice to students

My piece of advice to students

If you had told me that I would have done a 4 month internship at the University of Oxford in my dream subject Marine Biology at the same time last year I would never have believed you. I think the moral of the story is don't be put off from pursuing anything just because you think it is ridiculously out of reach. If there aren't any opportunities that are laid out as schemes then make your own by using a more informal approach as I did. Usually marine biology related placement are voluntary or you actually have to pay in order to be a part of them. By reaching out to an academic instead of just buying myself onto an opportunity, i have come out with something a lot more meaningful and useful. Go for it no matter how impossible it might seem at first because you never know how things might work out.

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Form completed: 03 Oct 2019

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