Biology, ecology and biomedical science at Brighton

University of Brighton biosciences blog

A life changing experience

Congratulations to Renée McAlister who has recently graduated with a first class honours in Ecology MSci. Here she tells us more about the course, her experiences on field trips and how it changed her life.  

I have recently graduated with distinction from the Ecology MSci. This course has changed my life. I started university at the age of 47 and I have felt safe, supported and encouraged throughout my time here. 

Highlights of my course include the field trip to South Africa where I stood 200m away from wild rhinos, the support and knowledge of the staff and, predominantly, the feeling of elation when analysing data and realising you have found something that no-one else has before. Additionally, the two-week field skills course at the beginning of the third year.

Field trips are imperative to the course – an ecologist gets out there!

We did an amazing array of activities in South Africa. From following large mammals (antelope, wildebeest, zebra) to learning how to triangulate the height of trees. We learnt how to assess the amount of animals in a large game reserve and also to assess the amount of reptiles in a heathland. 

There’s also the two-week field skills course at the beginning of the third year, it’s exhausting but exhilarating. I very much enjoyed learning about chalk grassland plants and how they are so important in this local area. Where else would you get to see a wild adder, learn about different types of heather and spend two days gathering data at the beach. I also enjoyed learning about limpets in Wales during a trip early in the first year. 

The skills I have learnt are almost unimaginable.

Statistics, plant and animal physiology, plant and animal relationships, taxonomy, survey skills, maths, career development, evolution, microbiology, genetics, geology and the ability to now walk along any street and know that any street is not just any street. It is full of ecological wonder.

I am about to publish my research from my final year. I investigated the differences in soil biogeochemical properties between sedum and wildflower green roofs and discovered new science. It was fabulous. I trolled about on green roofs throughout the city, surrounded by flowers, gathering my data with a roof buddy who is now a very good friend, and I know my research will contribute to scientific knowledge in this area.  My research will contribute to knowledge in regards to CO2 sequestration in the urban environment. I was in the lab for 5 months and learnt to use equipment that I can hardly pronounce!

I am currently applying for PhDs in soil science. I hope to become a soil scientist in order to further the understanding of this science as well as communicating this to the general public. I feel that scientists can sometimes get into a bubble, and I would like to burst this bubble and include everyone in what we do.

I would highly recommend this course, it’s like being taught by David Attenborough. The range of knowledge that is given and the way it is presented is amazing. Mainly I would recommend the lecturers and their enduring and wonderful support, interest and patience. 

Stephanie Thomson • August 14, 2018

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