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Biological Records Analyst
About the placement/internship

Why did you decide to do a placement/internship?

Doing a placement would be a good way to fill some gaps I had identified in my CV. In terms of careers, I want to work in collaborative, applied ecological research. This a shift away from the very independent, less-applied ecological research that I have been doing as part of my PhD. I have started my post-PhD job search and have been looking at non-academic work environments such as environmental research organisations and wildlife charities. A key requirement listed on those job adverts is being able to work with stakeholders, with short deadlines and present results to non-academic audiences, which I currently have little evidence of on my CV.

How did you find your placement/internship?

Speculative application

Application process

Filled in a google form with various questions on what I hope to do during the placement, who the placement will be working with and how will I, the host and Sheffield University benefit from the placement. I spent a couple of hours on the application form.

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

I have volunteered with SRWT before and I am a support of SRWT.

Main responsibilities

Firstly, I contacted and had a skype call with Sophie Ratcliffe, data manager at the National Biodiversity Network, to get access to some data analysis tools written by a masters student last year. These tools assessed the data quality of biological records across the UK. Biological records contain information about the location of an organism at a point in time as recorded by an individual. For the first part of the placement I worked through these tools and localised them to assess the data quality of biological records in the Sheffield and Rotherham area. These tools were written as scripts for the R programming language which I am experienced in using. These tools downloaded summary data from the NBN web service and produced interactive maps and plots for exploring how data quality varies across geography, time and taxonomic groups.I found the tools provided by NBN to be useful, but they werent designed to dive into the details of the data because they were set up to initially look at boarder national-scale trends. Therefore, for the second section of the placement I downloaded all available biological records data for the region and worked with the data in a different way. This made it easier to dive into the details of an individual records in a way that wasnt very easy using the NBN web service approach. I placed more focus on looking at SRWTs own data and assessing its data quality. I carried out exploratory data analysis by producing figures, maps and tables.For the final part of the placement I compiled a report for SRWT to provide an overview of data quality in the region. I selected a few key figures from the exploratory data analysis that answered the main aims of the project. At the end of the report I outlined what my findings mean for the subsequent More Data for Nature project that SRWT will be undertaking over the next two years.

Typical day

I worked in the SRWT office in the east of Sheffield and had meetings with the senior data and monitoring officer at SRWT and phone conversations with the data manager at the National Biodiversity Network. At the beginning of the placement I spent time getting to grips with the data, reading documentation and generally learning about where the data had come from. I primarily worked independently during the placement using the R programming language to analyse, with meetings with staff members about the progress I had made. At the end of the placement I did a short presentation for selected staff about the placement. I kept being offered cups of tea so I kept drinking tea!

What did I enjoy about my placement/internship?

I enjoyed getting stuck into some data that was new to me. It was great to chat to more of the staff about their work at Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust and learn more about the different activities that they run such as education, conservation and advocacy.

Challenging aspects

I overestimated how much I could achieve during the placement, through my PhD I haven't had to work to short deadlines with quick turnarounds. It was good experience, but towards the end some of the work I produces was a little rushed or I had to finish in my own time. There were certain data analysis tasks, especially regarding GIS and mapping in R, that took longer than expected because it was not something I was very experienced in.

Did you use any skills learned from your course?

I used the data analysis skill set (R programming language) that I had been developing through my PhD. It was good to see that these skills are transferable and can be applied in a different setting.

Has your time on placement influenced your future career choice?

It has confirmed that I would like to work in a more applied setting, as opposed to the more theoretical/fundamental nature of my PhD work. Ideally in a wildlife/conservation charity setting.

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

Following the placement, I applied for a part time job at SRWT to do alongside my PhD working on the More Data for Nature project and I was successful and have started that job. It certainly helped that I knew the staff and the placement had given me a chance to show my data analysis skillset.

Advice to students

My piece of advice to students

The PREP scheme is well worth it, and you get paid too so your effort feels valued! SRWT were a good host organisation for the placement.

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Form completed: 06 May 2020

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