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.

Continue reading “My Degree: Conservation Biology (Present)”

Career Fair Tips

On Wednesday, my university (University of Sussex) held a careers fair to recruit students of all years from Sussex and the nearby University of Brighton. I really want a job in the United Kingdom upon graduation and I hope to stay local, so I thought checking out some of the exhibitors would be beneficial.

A few days before the event, I attended an event to help prepare for the career fair that I found really helpful. We were advised on how to prepare, what questions to ask, how to dress, what to bring and more. Here are the tips I found most useful and some of my own:

  • Review your CV. Most universities offer career services that will help polish up your CV in time to submit it to the exhibitors. However, bear in mind that not all exhibitors will be accepting CVs on the day of the career fair.
  • Research the exhibitors beforehand. Exhibitors will likely be sorted by subject, so I wouldn’t bother wasting time in areas where you aren’t likely going to get a job. For relevant companies, I toggled around their website for what they do, current vacancies and possible graduate schemes.
  • Have questions. Come prepared to ask exhibitors questions if you’re interested in their company.
  • Bring your questions, your CV, a notebook, pen and water. Water because it gets hot in there and a notebook and pen to write down any information you might gather from the exhibitors.
  • Dress smart casual, but not too warm. I was so cold riding my bike to the venue, but it was all worth it when I stepped inside in and it was hot. Don’t dress too warm because whatever layers you shed, you will have to carry around with you.
  • Know the lay of the land so you can make a beeline for your favorite exhibitors and you’re not doing the awkward, lost penguin waddle all the unprepared students are doing.
  • Arrive as soon as it starts so the exhibitors are fresh.
  • Take breaks. I know the stress of thinking about my future is enough to get me going, but when you place me in a crowded, hot room with other students with the same energy and make me talk to people, it gets overwhelming. Between talking to exhibitors, I stepped out into the hallway where it was cool and quiet to have a drink of water and refocus myself for the next exhibitor.
  • Write it down. The venue is likely to be loud and distracting so when you’re speaking to an exhibitor, write down anything important you hear because with all the background noise, it’s sure to leave your head in a matter of minutes.
  • They want you! The last thing to remember is that the exhibitors are there because they want you to work for them. If not, they wouldn’t waste their resources and time on being at the career fair. Ask them what they can do for you as much as what you can do for them. Don’t sell yourself short!

Finally, don’t forget to smile and thank the exhibitors, give them your CV if it’s appropriate and take down their contact information if necessary.

My Course: Conservation Biology (Past)

What do I do? Good question.

As a biology major in my undergraduate degree, I often got lumped in with the students headed for medical school. When I clarified that my major was conservation biology, I got a lot of puzzled looks. Basically, conservation biology “is the management of nature and biodiversity (variety all living things) with the aim of protecting species, their habitats, and ecosystems.”

Unlike a lot of people, I’ve been lucky enough to know what I wanted to do with myself (kind of) from quite a young age and have carried that passion, energy and curiosity into my adult life. I will tell the story of my degree in three installments: past (how I got into my degree and my education and experience up to this point), present (my graduate degree and dissertation topic) and future (what I hope to do with it).

My first family trip to Hawai’i when I was about ten sparked my interest in marine life. To this day, I find encounters with sea life beautiful and breathtaking (pun intended). Around that same time, I read the book Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, about young kids stopping the construction of a waffle house when they discover the land is occupied by burrowing owls. That family trip and novel made me appreciate the intrinsic beauty of nature and its critters and sparked my interest in how to protect them.

High school

In my junior year of high school, I took my first environmental science class, which most notably introduced me to the horrors of factory farming. After watching Food, Inc. in class, my classmate Roxane and I were inclined to try a vegetarian lifestyle and that has more or less been my ethic since, and that was six years ago (read my five year anniversary post here). That class gave me a more professional direction with my life just as I was about to start applying for college.

Continue reading “My Course: Conservation Biology (Past)”

House Tour

Before my Camino trip, I settled into my new house for the year!

I arrived in Brighton on the 12th of September and moved in the next morning. Once everyone was at the house, the agent walked us through the house and explained how to do inventory. Everything in the house looked (relatively) okay (for a student house) except my bed: I was expecting to have a single bed (I even bought sheets and everything at this point), but the bed in my room was a double and dominated the already small room. I inquired about changing my bed to a smaller one with the landlord, but after a few days of slow progress, I decided to keep the bed I have now. It’s brand new and really comfortable and heaven knows what they’d give me instead if I switched. Unfortunately, I couldn’t return my single-sized duvet, so it looks a bit goofy on my double bed.

Once the agent left, it was crunch time. The lot of us hurried around town buying things we needed for the house and making repairs. After a few full days of shopping, we finally got everything we needed. The next few days, we all got to know each other (besides Diego who waited a few more weeks to move in) and had a great time playing card games and drinking (some of us more than others…) (okay, that might have been me).

Continue reading “House Tour”

University Tips for First Years

I still can’t believe that I have my undergraduate degree, these past four years went by so quickly!

For those starting university or still early on in their degrees, learn from my mistakes (and triumphs) and start off strong:

  1. For the love of all that is good, go to lecture. Obviously, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Some days, you need to take time for yourself or other assignments or obligations and there are some classes you can do just fine without going to lectures. But there are some classes where if you miss one lecture, if feels like you missed an entire semester. I strongly suggest going to all your lectures until you can suss out what kind of work you need to put into each class. Oh, and actually pay attention. You won’t miss much on Twitter in an hour.
  2. Don’t buy books right away. At least wait until the syllabi are available online and buy the books for required reading. To save money, look into renting from Amazon, borrowing from the university library or speak to you professor about using an earlier edition of the book.
  3. Buy a planner… and use it! I would lose my mind without my planner.
  4. Get to know your professors. If a certain teacher speaks about topics that really spark your interest, speak to them! I know I gained a lot from familiarizing myself with my professors’ work and networking (letters of recommendation from professors look especially good).
  5. If you don’t have it down twelve hours before the test, you probably won’t learn it. As a rule of thumb, I stop intensely studying twelve hours before an exam to let all the material sink in. On a related note, your brain does not retain much in the wee hours of the morning and the reason we need sleep is to process everything we see, read, think and more throughout the day. Get sleep and retain what you have confidently learned instead of trying to cram more in. Check out some exam tips I wrote about a few months ago.
  6. Use the Pomodoro technique. In my exams post, I suggested using the Pomodoro technique to study and it can also be applied to coursework: work efficiently for about 25 minutes at a time and take short breaks to recharge.
  7. Study abroad. If that sounds like something you might consider, start looking into it as soon as possible. I planned my classes meticulously from my first year to make it so I would be able to study abroad for a whole year. There are programs varying in type and length for a wide range of degrees and it goes without saying that my year abroad was the highlight of my undergraduate degree and something I will remember for the rest of my life.
  8. If you must work, get an on-campus jobs. My jobs were very understanding of my workload and even let me do homework on the job!
  9. Get involved with clubs and intramural sports. Perhaps my biggest is not getting involved with clubs, societies, research and recreational sports earlier.
  10. Socialization is a necessity, not a luxury. Make time to call your friends and family back home and get to know new people! An hour for coffee won’t make or break any mark.

Finally, a bonus tip: Just do it. This is pretty generic advice, but do the fun thing, even if it means missing a class (make up some excuse to your professor). You won’t regret it. Academics are important, but they’re not everything. Use your best judgement to decide when is a good time to take a break from university and do it. Most recently, I impulsively bought a ticket to an intimate Rise Against show… in Los Angeles (a seven hour drive away and I don’t have a car)… on a school night. But, fuck it. It was my birthday present to myself, so I bought coach tickets to leave the morning of the concert and return in the wee hours of the morning the next day. It turned out to be the best concert of my life and I regret nothing.

Check out some additional resources from my Pinterest board (which I’m determined to be more active on): “adult-ing” and university student resources.

Good luck in the new academic year!

University Senior Memory “Book”

My senior year of high school, I created a memory book reflecting on my high school years and beyond. As my undergraduate career comes to an end, I reflect on the people and experiences that made it all possible (you’ll have to forgive me as my memory of my first two years is lacking)…

Freshman year: I remember being so excited to move into my dorm. I lived on the fourth floor of the newly renovated Manzanita Hall with one roommate Alexa and we shared a bathroom with another set of roommates. I quite liked all the resources the building provided: a dining hall, a gym, study rooms and washing machines on every other floor, large lounges, kitchenettes and more. The space of the room was small and you literally never got any privacy, but that wasn’t so much an issue for me as the constant drunk nights my roommate had. It’s none of my business what she wants to do when she goes out, but when she throws up on the carpet of our room, it become my problem, too. Despite the fact that my roommate and I couldn’t be any more different, our time together went by pretty quickly (thank goodness). Two of my good friends freshman year lived on my floor: Landon (we hit it off through our mutual love of Stanley Kubrick films) and Nolan (who I actually met at orientation before I knew we lived on the same floor and were in the same class block). Continue reading “University Senior Memory “Book””

Exam Study Tips

It’s that time of the year again… I don’t know about you, but my final final exams (of my undergraduate degree) are right around the corner and I’m kind of freaking out.

Fortunately, this term I only have two finals: animal behavior and vertebrate zoology (plus a lab practical). To kind of get out of my own head and re-energize, I thought I’d share some of my exam tips.

Obviously, types of exams (this will be geared especially towards American exams as British exams typically call for more revision) are going to vary by major, class structure, where you go to university, etc. and study habits are all relative, so don’t take these and hard and fast rules, just suggestions!

Make a schedule, timeline or to do list: For big exams or projects, I like to make a schedule of things to do everyday or week before the exam or deadline to stay on top of the work.

Continue reading “Exam Study Tips”

University Essentials

After four years, I’ve come to appreciate a few items that have made university a lot easier:

Wireless mouse: This isn’t really a must, but it came in handy for my research (where I had to do touchy image analyses and my laptop trackpad just wasn’t cutting it) and I much prefer scrolling with it over my trackpad. Also, I can plug in my laptop to the television and not have to get up to change what I’m watching on Netflix.

Flash drive: I always keep it in my pencil case because you never know when you’ll need it! It comes in handy for presentations and a place to back-up important projects.

Lunch box: I spend most of my days on campus so to save money, I pack my lunch. It has gotten so many compliments and I’ve gotten a lot of use out of it.

iPad: I bought my iPad a few years ago and I don’t leave for school without it. It’s a great alternative to bring up the lecture slides and papers during class if you don’t want to bring a laptop.

Planner: No matter how much you think you don’t need it, you probably do. Whether it’s a handwritten planner or a note on your computer, keep track of your assignments and due dates!

Portable charger: This saves me the anxiety of leaving my apartment when my iPad or phone is low on battery. I got a heavy duty charger for Christmas a few years ago and although it’s bulky, it lasts for ages.

Hydroflask: Especially in the Arizona heat, upgrading from a regular water bottle to a Hydroflask, an insulated water bottle that keeps liquid cool (or warm) for hours, was a turning point in my life (ice literally won’t melt for upwards of a whole day).

Earplugs: I’m a super light sleeper, so finding the right earplugs has let me sleep through many parties in my building and loud gatherings held by my roommates.

Bike: I only got my bike in the last six months, but it has been so much better than commuting by train. It’s faster, good daily exercise, gets me right to my lecture hall rather than the outskirts of campus (I probably walked at least a couple miles a day getting to my classes) and the weather has been lovely lately.

Note: this is a queued post.

Favorite University Courses

Now that my time in my undergraduate career is coming to a close, I’d like to share some of my favorite courses I’ve taken over the last four years:

Race, Gender and Class (spring 2015): I took my first women’s studies class the semester before and was a little disappointed in the content of the course, but this course was more intersectional talking about how feminist issues span across all (you guessed it) races, genders and classes. It was really thought-provoking and I really enjoyed having discussions (especially at the beginning of class where we talked about recent events from a feminist standpoint) and watching different documentaries.

Conservation of Biodiversity (fall 2016): While I was a bit bummed my credits didn’t transfer after taking an extremely similar course abroad, this class turned out to be great and the professor is one of my all time favorites. Everyday, we would have a lecture that included a small bit on a specific species and its conservation story. Professor Smith really opened my mind to all sorts of different careers out there in conservation and I was always blown away by his travel stories. As a conservation biologist, it’s really easy to get down about the grim future of our planet and its inhabitants, but in a very emotional speech on his last lecture ever (he retired after this past fall semester), he said the most important conservation tool out there is you (I’m welling up just thinking about it!). He is a brilliant professor and a great man (to be honest, if he wasn’t, I wouldn’t have made it to his 7:30AM lectures as often). Not to mention, my now research mentor Rick was the teaching assistant for that course and that’s how I recognized his name and applied to be in his lab, which has also opened so many doors for me!

Environmental Ethics (fall 2016): This class, too, was really thought provoking. I became really interested quite early on in the course. We read so many amazing papers and books in this class, I couldn’t get enough. However, the more I find out about these ethical questions, the more unsure I am about where I stand on these issues. Near the end of the semester, I approached the professor (Ben) about helping with his work or the work of his teaching assistants. This semester, I am doing an independent research project with the guidance of his former teaching assistant and am in a similar ethics class (more focused on conservation than environmental science topics such as climate change) taught by one of his Ph.D. mentees. This is a really interesting field that I would love to work in someday.

Animal Behavior (spring 2017): In addition to her cool accent, Dr. Plowes is a really fun, energetic and creative professor. We basically just learn fun facts about animals and watch David Attenborough documentaries. We entering a unit that particularly interests me: sexual selection. She complements her lectures with the occasional activity, documentary screening and quizzes to check our understanding. Her teaching assistant Andrew also makes the lectures really fun by always throwing in more fun facts.

As you can see, these courses are later in my undergraduate career as my first few years were spent taking general classes. These professors and courses have really shaped what I’ve become interested in as I’m heading out into the real world in the next few months.

First Week Back

I’ve now been back at university for my final year for a week now and although it can get a bit overwhelming trying to process all the work I have coming up, I’m looking forward to this semester.

I’m taking 19 credit hours, which is quite a lot, but I want to make sure I graduate on time. I’m taking conservation of biodiversity, introduction to physics (which also includes a recitation and lab), elementary organic chemistry (which also includes a recitation and lab), environmental ethics, writing for the professions and leadership in the life sciences. This sounds like a lot, but in reality, most of my days are only about four hours (except Tuesdays, we don’t talk about Tuesdays) and are over by early afternoon, giving me the rest of the day to do homework, work or just relax.

Conservation of biodiversity seems a lot like a class I took abroad (but for whatever reason, they wouldn’t transfer that course as an equivalent), but the topic still interests me and the professor has worked all around the world, so I’m looking forward to speaking with him about his career.

Basic physics is required as a general credit. I’m dreading it because the lectures are a bit dry and I’m not very good at math, but as this is an introductory course, I reckon I’ll do just fine.

I wanted to minor in chemistry, so I took one semester of general organic chemistry. After I barely passed that class, I realized that may not be for me. My major requires one semester of elementary organic chemistry but unfortunately, one of two semesters of general organic chemistry could not fulfill that credit, so here I am. On the bright side, the professor insists that it’s easy to succeed in her class.

Environmental ethics will probably be my most interesting class. The readings are engaging and my professor is lively. I like to touch on other areas of social sciences and apply it to environmental science and this course will give me a good glimpse into the philosophy of environmentalism.

My online English class (focused on writing in the workplace rather than academically) seems easy enough. I’ve taken online classes in the past and have gotten really great marks.

Finally, my leadership in the life sciences course meets twice a week. On Wednesday afternoons, I mentor a small group of life science freshman and help them transition into university life by setting goals, letting them know about life science involvement, and more. Later that day, I go to a class reviewing my progress and discuss next week’s goals. Although it’s a lot more little assignments to stay on top of compared to the United Kingdom system, the grading is much more forgiving and I’m sure I’ll get a rhythm down soon.

I got hired as an usher at a Broadway theater on campus halfway through my freshman year and as an usher for student events at the beginning of my sophomore year. I’ve done the onboarding for the second job and I’m pretty confident I’m getting my first job back, as well. However, I won’t start working until September.

Now that I’ve been in my new place for a few weeks now, I’ve gotten to know my roommates a little bit better and we get on really well. I wouldn’t say they’re my new best friends, but we’re all really friendly.

I am involved in several societies: Global Guides, where I help international students, both at general events and one-on-one, and Central Arizona Chapter Society for Conservation Biology, which has its first meeting Monday. I’m excited to do volunteer work and get field experience!

I enjoy the little free time I have by watching films and television shows, reading, working out and cooking.

I still can’t believe I’m in the final year of my Bachelor’s degree, but I’m determined to not let it pass me by!