My Degree: Conservation Biology (Present)

In my previous post, I talked about my childhood, high school, undergraduate degree and first “big girl” job that got me to where I am today in my academic and professional career.

Graduate degree

Now, I’m a few months into my year-long graduate degree program. My official degree is Master of Research in Conservation Biology.

I’ve been interested in getting a Master’s degree for a while, it was just a question of when. I loved Brighton and the University of Sussex so much, I decided to return here for my degree. I hope that this degree will help further my qualifications as a worker in the United Kingdom so I can stay here even longer.

Similar degrees at my university are Master of Research in Animal Behavior and Master of Science in Global Biodiversity Conservation. I considered all of these and was really torn between conservation and animal behavior, but the deciding factor was that I thought conservation was more broad scope and I’ve only taken one animal behavior course before. As much as I enjoyed it, I wasn’t confident it was something I wanted to specialize in.

Although I studied at Sussex for a year in my undergraduate degree, I’m getting used to the different teaching methods and expectations all over again. Here has what my experience brought me so far:

Dissertation: I came into my degree with no clue what they expect of a dissertation. Luckily, in the first week of lectures, it was made abundantly clear. We were given a list of about 50 projects and we had to choose our top three. Although we were allowed to make our own project, there was almost no time to do so unless you already came into the program with a very detailed idea of what you want to do and an adviser who would be willing to take you on. With that, my top three choices for projects were: collaboration with inshore fisheries and conservation authority, green infrastructure and quantifying terrestrial wild animal harvesting in that order. Once we made our top choices, we were interviewed by the advisers for each project. It wasn’t so much as an interview as it was a conversation because they want someone to do this work with them as much as you want to do it. After the interview process was over, we were asked to produce an updated list of our project choices as advisers were asked to produce a list of top candidates and dissertations were assigned likewise.

Field trips: Before the first week of lectures, we took a course field trip to Knepp wildlands for some basic lectures and socialization, which you can read more about by following the link. Additionally, my course offers several other field trips throughout the year to Ecuador, Egypt, Portugal, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The trip is all inclusive except for flights so needless to say, pretty much every student is interested in the opportunity. I opted for the South African marine field course in April, I can’t wait! I had to get scuba certified for the course, which you can read about here. Here is the description of my course:

“The rich biological diversity of southern Africa, including ecologically dominant megafauna, and the conservation challenges this presents, makes the region an exceptional place to learn about zoology. From a marine perspective, southern Africa is particularly notable for its transition from temperate to tropical waters and the associated transition in marine fauna, its diversity of shark species, and for having the world’s most southerly coral reef. This field course will be based at several sites along the coast in South Africa that will provide students with the opportunity to study marine African animals, including some of the charismatic shark megafauna. Following an introduction to the sites, students will carry out a fieldwork research project to investigate the behavior, ecology or conservation of marine African animals.

The field course will begin with ca. 1 week based at Sodwana Bay, South Africa, which has the most southerly coral reef in the world. This will provide an excellent site to study the ecology and behaviour of coral reef animals, and for less experienced divers to develop their dive skills. We will then move to Umkomaas, South Africa, for ca. 4 days which we will use as a base for diving at two of the most famous shark diving sites in the world, Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks. We will finally move base to Cape Town for ca. 3 days to cage-dive with white sharks and optionally scuba dive with cowsharks, blue and mako sharks, and cape fur seals.”

Minimal lectures: Similar to my year abroad at Sussex, I have minimal face to face lectures, about two hours a week to be exact. However, we are expected to do most of our work outside of the classroom. The lectures are mostly there to supplement our dissertation work and we’re largely expected to engage in other academic extracirricular activities such as seminars, workshops, meetings and societies.

Fortunately, I got my first choice of project and I’m looking forward to working with my supervisor, Bonnie, getting to know my labmate, Ellen (who is exploring a similar topic but has a different goal) and collaborating with the Sussex I.F.C.A. (Inshore Fishing and Conservation Authorities). My thesis is still in the early stages of being formed, but it will compare and contrast fishing vessels and landing (fish caught) with habitat data to assess the sustainability of fishing practices. I’m sure I’ll bore you all to tears with the intricacies of my research once it’s off the ground.

I will finish my degree in September of 2018. After that, who knows? I will try to talk out my future direction in an upcoming “Future” post of this sort. Stay tuned!

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