The penultimate semester

Each semester goes quicker than the last as an undergrad. It’s probably the same for anything other multi-year commitment you make.

As a final year student I’ve been busy taking the last courses I’ll do as an undergraduate student, and there’s been lots to do.
We started the year off with our field trip to Oban (west coast of Scotland). There we had a lecture or two a day about what we’d be getting up to and the kind of knowledge we’d need to understand all the cool stuff we were going to see and do. We saw the most productive community owned wind farm in Scotland and went to the beach to learn about shoreline ecology. We planted some tree seedlings and met with park rangers to talk about forest diversity. We picked a field project topic, planned it, and gathered all our data in the last 2 days. But still had time to go to the pub once or twice.

Back in Edinburgh we had to analyse our data with our group, make a poster presentation that explains it all and display it to the rest of our class at a poster conference (tea and biscuits included). There were still two hand-ins for this field course however; the project report, and an essay from a choice of two topics.

Everyone also took a course called Critical Thinking. This consisted of a weekly journal club for the first 4 weeks or so, where we’d all meet having read the same papers over the week and then discuss them as a small group of around 5. Once we’d got the hang of that we had to organise and lead our own paper discussion. This meant picking papers for people to read (that were related) and leading the discussion once we were all together round the table. There were questions to come up with and conclusions to make. Finding a time where everyone is available sometimes seemed like the hardest part with our other hand-ins to think about, but once we’d lead our session there was a synthesis report on that same topic as our last piece. But that wasn’t due until the second semester.

Professional skills in Ecology and Environmental science. This course aimed to prepare us for the real world of science. We learnt how to effectively communicate science, how to give informative and interesting presentations (by understanding your target audience, be they children, students, non-scientists, journalists or what have you), and we also had several weeks of statistics lectures and a stats assessment using the program ‘R’ (R is great when you know how to use it).
This was the last course I’d take that actually had an exam at the end too.

I took an optional course called Conservation Science with my remaining 20 credits of that semester. All the ecology students (Geoscience and bioscience) were given priority over the other bioscience students because of it’s popularity. Although it was running for only the second year, the hype was justified.
There were weekly paper discussions like in Critical Thinking, but these were interspersed with lectures and group problem solving activities related to each week’s main topic. We chose a ‘hot topic’ in conservation each and created a poster presentation to communicate our analysis. (There’s also a blog page for that course:
That weekend many of us went off to the Cairngorms national park to talk to different land owners and park rangers. There they talked to us about how they manage their land, what for, and why the methods they are using are right for what their goals are. It was incredibly Autumnal, as well as being a fun weekend seeing parts of Scotland which really do differ from the rest of the UK.

On top of that there is also a dissertation to be thinking about. After choosing (from a suggestions booklet or from your own imagination) a topic and getting a supervisor assigned to yourself and your project, you can get on with planning and doing your experiments or data gathering whenever you like. Some people are really on the ball and do a summer dissertation. You could conduct an experiment in the lab or in the field, or it could be entirely research and analysis based. Either way you will have the second half of your second semester free of classes so you can focus on writing it.

In amongst all this I had time to compete at the Scottish student sport (SSS) team cup for Karate. Edinburgh has two karate clubs; I train with Shukokai, and there is also a Shotokan club. Everyone that day that competed in kumite (point sparring) won a gold medal! I hope we have as much success at BUCS this year, the biggest competition involving many of the UK’s universities.

After the term had suddenly finished I met up with a friend from an internship I’d done more than a year before, and stayed in a bothy in the Cairngorms for a night to take some pictures. It was strangely warm for December (~7 degrees C) and it really showed in the number of grouse that were flying around. We also saw two eagles, one was definitely a golden eagle and the other could have been a white tailed eagle… I’m not too sure.

In my final semester I’ll be working on my dissertation alongside two courses that only run up until the end of February: Current Issues in Ecology, and Conservation and Management of Natural Populations.
The preparation for the BUCS karate competition is also underway. My last chance must be my best one!



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