Sophie Harris, a final year Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Student in the Department of Applied Sciences at UWE Bristol attended the British Ecological Society (BES) Undergraduate Summer School this year. Summer school during an ongoing pandemic? Yes! Sophie shares her experience in this article and we hope you are not only inspired but motivated to take similar opportunities when they arise. This is a perfect example of how to make the most of what you have, when you have it and while it’s still in your reach.
Change of tactics
Each year, the BES hosts a summer school course for first and second year students studying an Ecology (or another relevant) degree. After hearing tales about the course from a course mate last year, I decided to apply for 2020.
Now, as if it hadn’t really been spoken about already, just in case you hadn’t heard, unfortunately – there’s a pandemic at the moment. Something about a bat in China. This meant that my trip to the Yorkshire Dales with BES was a little bit different to what I had imagined. I had envisioned being cold and wet and having a fantastic time up North. However, I was still able to gain valuable skills and experiences from the comfort of my very own home.
The school consisted of 4 days over a 5 day period learning about mycology, ornithology, entomology (the ologies go on), as well lectures on various career paths and general networking. We were also tasked with creating a portfolio of our work outside of the lessons. This portfolio included our CV, a blog post, a plant drawing, and anything else extra we wanted to do for the summer school. Why would you do extra work during the summer holidays, you may ask? For the respect? To impress? To get more involved? Of course… But if that doesn’t get you pumped to write an internship application, maybe the insane prizes, such as a bat detector will!
As well as the activities conducted in our own time, we also had active and engaging sessions to look forward to. On the first day we had to go into the real world (scary, I know) and find fungi. Once found we then had to try and identify the species, before creating a powerpoint presentation with our mentor group and presenting to the rest of the school on the Thursday. This may seem daunting, however presentation skills are key for almost any job, so even if you have no clue what you’re on about, act like you do! It might just win you a swanky mycology poster (Insert smug emoji).
Although I wasn’t able to attend the summer school physically, the fact that BES still created such a fantastic online version meant so much to me. It came just at the time where I needed a routine and a platform to engage with people who have similar interests and passions (motivating). The staff were just fantastic. They were, and are still so supportive, encouraging students to contact them any time in the future with regards to anything related to their career path or just for general advice; those are contacts that aren’t easy to come across. I would really encourage anyone thinking about a career in ecology, or even any environmental career, to go for the opportunity and apply for next year’s run. It’s invaluable, enjoyable and free! What more could you want!?
My final piece of advice once you have applied (and I know you will because my science communication skills are amazing after the summer school!) make sure you fully throw yourself into the programme. You’ll get out what you put in. If you engage, put yourself out of your comfort zone and just absorb everything, even if you don’t think you’re interested, you’ll get so much out of it. There aren’t many opportunities like this out there for undergrads so don’t pass it up.
Finally, make sure you check for application deadlines quite early on in the year and seize the chance while you still have it.
If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a message.
Written by Sophie Harris
Thank you for reading!
From the editors: We hope you enjoyed the read as much as we did and have been left feeling motivated and ready to grab opportunities around you. This article is another wonderful reminder to keep pursuing and growing in every season of our lives, even the most difficult ones.
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