A long time ago (Summer, 2005) on a glacier far away (Von Postbreen, Svalbard archipegalo) a little girl (16 year-old me) had the experience of a lifetime; taking part in a scientific expedition to the inner Arctic circle with British Exploring Society (BE). But back then, little did she realise this “once in a lifetime” adventure was to become the first of many; because this spotty little teen discovered a love for the natural world, an admiration for the diversity of live, and a deep-seated longing to be in wilderness.
Fast forward to 2017. It is clear to me now that many of the decisions I have made, as well as many of my future aspirations and goals, have been shaped by the incredible experience I had whilst on expedition. It is in part (and a large part at that) due to my Arctic experience with BE that I took the time to travel, volunteer, explore, climb, ski, dive and to cycle (among other things!) in some of the most beautiful places imaginable (and let’s not forget all of the beautiful people I met along the way!). BE gave me a taste of the great outdoors, and an appreciation of the natural wonder within it, which sparked my desire to learn, understand and ultimately protect and conserve the environment and its fragile ecosystems.
That’s how my journey brought me to Swansea University, to read Biosciences. During my time here I have developed a fascination with animal behaviour, how it has evolved, and how it shapes the ecology and lives of animals. I have learned so much from the inspirational biosciences staff, about such a broad range of topics. Dr Penny Neyland cemented my love of all things botanical, Dr Wendy Harris wowed me with her awesome insects and Dr Laura Roberts introduced me to the field of animal behaviour (and I have been hooked ever since). I have now hit the supervisor jackpot, and am lucky enough to be inspired by Prof. Rory Wilson and his wizardry on a daily basis!!
As well as inspiring me, teaching me about all things ecology and preparing me to be the best scientist I can be, Swansea has provided me with some amazing opportunities to get out in the field and do science in the great outdoors. From spending a summer on the boat in Swansea Bay conducting benthic surveys, to hiking around the winelands of South Africa researching baboon behaviour, to taking an interdisciplinary approach researching impacts of hydro-electric power plants in the Sikkim Himalaya. Studying at Swansea University has given me a wealth of experience (and memories!) that I can now draw on in my latest adventure…..
This summer, I shall be returning to the Arctic, Yukon bound, with British Exploring Society, but this time as a Science Leader. I will be joining a highly experienced leadership team, with a wealth of science and adventure experience, and together we will take 60 Young Explorers on what I hope will be their first adventure “of a lifetime”! I applied for the Summer 2017 expedition intake at the end of 2016, and after a rigorous selection process (including a day “on expedition” in Hyde park, where a large part of our time was spent chasing off a rather aggressive swan), I was lucky to be offered a position of Science Leader. I was absolutely ecstatic to be offered the role of Science Leader for so many reasons, as it gives me a perfect opportunity to combine my two passions; science and adventure, and to share my love of Mother (or Father!) Nature with the next generation – I am super excited to meet the Young Explorers that I will be on exped with. Having been in their shoes some 12 (eek!) years ago, I know how pivotal an opportunity such as this can be in a young person’s life.
It’s been pretty non-stop since finding out that I am Yukon bound this August! I met the rest of the awesome team in February for our first leadership training weekend in Oxfordshire, and have recently come back from Lake Windermere for our second training weekend (where I also got to meet our lovely trainee leaders). In a couple of weeks the whole gang will be getting together – all our Leaders, Trainee Leaders and Young Explorers will all descend upon Oxfordshire for a weekend of camping, laughing and learning. It’s going to be a great weekend, and I can’t wait to chat about the science projects we are running, and hear our YE’s ideas.
Along with all the fun pre-expedition training weekends away, there’s lots of preparation work to do back home, such as looking at safety procedures and putting together neat science projects (more on this next time!). Although I am now returning on a British Exploring Expedition with my “Leader” hat on, many of the challenges I will face over the next few months will probably sound familiar to the Young Explorers. I’ve got the joy of wearing in my new walking boots, the constant juggle between Uni work/getting fitter/fundraising, as well as the daunting challenge of whittling down my kit to fit into my backpack (the age-old two tee-shirts or three dilemma!). But for now, perhaps the biggest challenge I’m facing is having to learn to contain my excitement before I burst (I’m like a child on Christmas eve!).