Well hello again,
You find me at one of the busiest and most hectic times of any undergraduate degree: the final stretch of third year. Most third years are currently finishing off their final year project before exams start. As an MSci student though, as ever, things are quite a bit different. The usual 40 credits you get for your literature review and final year project are replaced by three different modules on the MSci course, all of which equip you for your final year as a research student, and beyond.
The first was a 10 credit bioinformatics module which we completed in first semester, which turned out to be much less daunting than I’d expected – I actually did really well in it. The second is a 10 credit project proposal module which is stretched out across the whole year. For this, you have to complete quite a bit of work during the first week back after summer, then compose two different research project proposals (one per semester), one of which will become your final year MSci project. This unit has probably been mt favourite MSci unit, as you have total freedom to work with any of the researchers in the faculty and pursue a project in pretty much anything you can imagine. However, this freedom also comes with a lot of responsibility; you must organise the projects and find two supervisors to work with yourself, and carry out most of the work independently (with a little help from your supervisors, of course).
Finally, we also have a 20 credit experimental skills module. This is a really intense unit, condensed into just 4 weeks. You have to design an individual project, which is part of a wider group research project. My group are carrying out a baseline ecological survey of the green spaces on the university campus, and comparing the biodiversity of that to a local, poorly-maintained park in a residential area behind the university. This project is part of the university’s commitment to social responsibility and working with local communities. The data we produce will be submitted to Manchester City Council and used to inform the planning of the regeneration of the local park, and of the redevelopment and pedestrianisation of Brunswick Street on the university campus, to expand our green spaces. It’s quite exciting knowing that the data we collect will be put to good use. However, there’s a lot of work to be done in a relatively short space of time. This week has been spent doing site visits, and planning the project. We had to write and submit a 2 page experimental design, then we will begin collecting data.
I have about 9 days to collect around 50 soil samples from the two field sites, and analyse them in the lab. I’ll be looking at the different properties of the soil, such as: pH, moisture content, the presence of calcium carbonate. Then, I’ll be sieving and centrifuging the soil to separate the microscopic nematodes from within it, to measure the nematode abundance. I chose to look at nematodes because – if you’ve read my other blogs – you’ll know I have a thing for parasites, especially wormy ones! Even though these are free-living nematodes, I couldn’t help but make the tenuous link to parasitism. Anyway, once that’s all done I have to statistically analyse my data and write a 5 page lab report. Then, our group will get together to compile all of our data and collectively produce a professional (looking) A1 poster representing our results. This will then be at the centre of a 15 minute group presentation, in which we will all have to answer questions on the project. Sound like a lot? Yep. Oh, and that’s not even considering exams, which start about a week after all this finishes. Ahhh the life of a third year. It’s a good job I love what I do!
So I guess you’d think that – with all that work – I’ve become a solitary creature, found only in the darkest depths of the library. For the most part, you’d be right. However, I like to make sure I reward myself with a bit of fun. This week brought another Tuesday night at Bongo’s bingo at Albert hall (see my last blog if you’re wondering why on earth a 21 year old student would go to bingo), a night at the Albert’s Schloss bar with a live band, and a summertime themed house party for a friends birthday. I also took my sister to the Manchester Opera House to watch Chicago. It was such a good show and I even got the tickets on a cheap student deal. So I’ve had plenty of chance to blow off some steam.
I’ve also been working hard at fundraising for charity for the past few weeks. My housemate and I both have both volunteered abroad with two sister international development charities; which aim to improve access to clean drinking water, promote gender equality and increase environmental sustainability. We both had such incredible experiences, so we decided to fundraise to help fund future projects. I don’t know how I ended up agreeing to this, but we are doing a sponsored sky dive this week; I am beyond petrified. Amazingly, we’ve already raised nearly £700, so at least my untimely death will be for a worthwhile cause. Anyway, I can’t think about jumping out of a plane right now, so I’m changing the subject to something less traumatic.
In fact, I’m going to talk about something quite the opposite of traumatic…PUPPIES! Well, singular – just the one puppy. My best friend from back home graduated from university last summer and is now living and working in Manchester, not too far away from me. She rang me last month and told me she was getting a puppy! I’m probably the most excitable dog lover you’ll ever meet. I’m the weirdo who will go round to someone’s house and sit on the floor spooning their dog, rather than actually spend any time with them. So naturally, I was straight around to her house to meet the little pup! Last week we took her for her very first walk around the reservoir in Manchester and she absolutely loved it! Walks and puppy cuddles are the best form of stress relief from uni work I could ask for; oh, and it’s nice to see my best friend too!
The next six or seven weeks will be a whirlwind of excitement and stress which will see me through to the end of third year (well that’s a terrifying thought). It will bring with it: 4 coursework deadlines, 5 exams, 2 music gigs, 1 BBQ (hopefully – it is Manchester), 1 end of year ball and 1 trip to Barcelona! If you’ve read my other blogs, you’ll remember that I booked holiday to Barcelona during Easter with some of my course friends to visit our friend who’s out there working in a zoology lab for his modern language year. Well things didn’t really go to plan; we went to the airport, got through security and were called to board the plane, but alas, our flight was suddenly cancelled due to the French air traffic control strikes. The next available flight was the day after we were supposed to return home. So we lost our entire holiday. They even made us show our boarding cards to go downstairs to arrivals, and then made us go through immigration because we’d “technically left the country”. Suffice to say, it was a pretty depressing train ride back to Fallowfield. We were absolutely gutted; a few days in the Spanish sun was just what we needed. However, we’ve just been refunded for the flights and now we’ve rebooked to go straight after final exams instead! I’m sure we’ll need the break even more by then, and it will be twice as hot. Silver linings and all that eh? Anyway, that’s enough blabbering from me; as usual, I should be doing my work.
Ciao for now,