'I developed guides and content that could be used in schools and for the public to understand the basics of scientific research, from forest ecology to using maps and GPS units.'
During my second and third years at university I took part in year-long placement in Minnesota, USA. During my placement I worked in a variety of fields, focused around environmental research at the Center for Water and the Environment (CWE). The organization has a broad range of departments centered around the environmental, business and technological sectors. The CWE works alongside educational institutions, legislative bodies like the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and in some cases acts as an intermediate between these institutions and society groups through its public education and environmental protection projects.
During my placement I had a variety of supervisors who gave me plenty of support in understanding the work I would be doing. My supervisors were very helpful throughout my placement; they enabled me to get a holistic idea of what it is like to work in the field of environmental research and protection. The diverse range of projects gave me the opportunity to get experience in multiple fields of interest.
Although largely environmental, my projects were considerably varied, sometimes focusing on pure research and other times looking to more social aspects of science like public education.
The first and most substantial project was based into researching how the usage of agricultural chemical Atrazine had been impacting the decline of amphibians in the US. The project is exploring the highly debated phenomenon of atrazine-induced hermaphroditism in amphibians. This involved chemical and biological laboratory work, as well as lots of practical experience in ephemeral wetlands.
Another aspect of my placement involved the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software. This software has a variety of practical uses in research, landscape design and even the insurance industry. My first task was to map out historical sediment core data from the bottom of lakes around Minnesota. Using the spatial analysis tools track changes in these cores alongside historical changes in land use and see how they have affected the basic water quality and nutrient availability by comparing land use and changes in algal community structure.
My final major task was to aid in the development of an invasive species awareness website. This page was set up in order to give the general public general knowledge of invasive species and also give them the basic the skills to carry out ecological studies in their own back yards. This involved working with scientists and the public to start up citizen science projects as a tool to collect data on the expansion of invasive species in the Midwest. I developed guides and content that could be used in schools and for the public to understand the basics of scientific research, from forest ecology to using maps and GPS units.
As well as leaving with a variety of practical academic skills I also left with some great employability skills such as communication, time management and data handling. My placement was definitely one of the most valuable things I have ever done, not just because it helped me grow academically and professionally, but also because it helped me develop socially. I have worked on so many interesting projects with so many brilliant scientists, it has helped me grow as a person, which is something that I think is invaluable.