Where will a Biosciences degree take you?

My name’s Joanne Makin and I graduated from
University of Birmingham back in 2013 with an MSci undergraduate masters in Biological
Sciences. I currently work as an assistant ecologist at The Landscape Partnership and
I’ve been in the ecology consultancy sector for two years since graduation. I got my first
position within the sector prior to graduation once I completed my exams. Throughout my degree
I took part in various field trips and undertook as much survey experience as I could and I
think that was really invaluable to get the experience of working with different protected
species in a range of different habitats and place in the world. So I went to Norway to
study Alpine and Glacial Ecology and then after that went to Florida for a Gopher Tortoise
conservation project. And then I gained the work experience bursary from the Career’s
Network and went to Greece to study Loggerhead sea turtles.
The Careers Network at Birmingham is brilliant! It’s a fantastic resource that all students
can access. For me, personally, I’ve benefitted a lot from talking to Jim Reali, he’s helped
me in previous years looking at different placements that I could get in first and second
year during my summer and Christmas holidays. He was also fundamental in funding my expedition
to Peru, which was six weeks studying primates. This was a really expensive expedition and
he made me aware of the different grants that are available at Birmingham and without them
the expedition wouldn’t have been possible. So my first placement was in South Africa
at a game reserve called Amakhala and here I was working on cheetah research. Unfortunately,
I didn’t know many people in the field then and so I had to do some networking. Which
I think is really fundamental for all students to do. So I went to a number of conferences,
one at the Royal Geographical Society, and here I met a number of experts in the field
and they gave me some really useful contacts. And eventually, after a lot of emails and
a lot of pestering, one came back to me. In Africa I learnt a lot about telemetry,
which is where you attach a collar to, in my case, a cheetah and then you use a tool
to track it around the reserve and then you can observe their behaviour. That’s a really
important skill that I’m hoping to use in future careers.
I also learnt a lot of 4×4 driving skills – I was on my own. I learnt how to get stuck
[laughs] and then after a long time, when I couldn’t get rescued, how to get out of
those problems. I think practical experience for any prospective
zoologist or biological scientist is absolutely crucial. If you look at the employers, they’re
always emphasising experience in their criteria for what they want out of an applicant.
I’ve learned a lot of transferable skills during my time at Birmingham including independent
thinking, critical analysis. By doing a lot of work as part of my course and doing my
final year project, I’ve learned so many techniques in the lab which I think have really helped
with my career prospects. During the summer between my second and third
year I undertook a ten-week summer studentship here in the research labs at the University.
I learnt so many different research skills. So, I did fluorescent microscopy, I did flow
cytometry and immunostaining which really helped me when it came to doing my final year
project. The Career’s Network has really been a great
help throughout my time at uni and I think I probably booked about two appointments of
year running back and forth every time I’ve changed what career I think I’m going to
be doing at the end of my degree, from thinking about graduate access to medicines to actually
considering accountancy. I think most of that help came when I was applying for their NHS
Scientist Training Programme. So I got one of their advisers to check over my application
a couple of times before I sent it off. I ended up having a mock interview with them
before I did the real thing and it really helped. And in the end I was offered a place
on it which is obviously really good.

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