Interview with an Intern: Ellen's Experience!
Ellen is 22 and alongside her course in Community Development, she has an internship placement at Doñana Biological Station, researching the foraging strategies and long-distance movements of Vultures. She's discovered since arriving however that her placement is more varied than she could have anticipated, and she's been loving each and every aspect!
Hi Ellen! Can you describe a typical day at your placement?
Well, I don’t think I really have a typical day as I’m doing something different every week, which is fantastic as I’m getting so much experience. But for example, today I was working in the DNA labs in the main biology building, extracting blood clots from black and griffin vulture feathers, and preparing them for DNA analysis. I had to wear a surgical outfit of shoes, gloves, mask, hat and a little surgical apron! It was quite precise work. Then once we finished, I put the data onto Excel files. It was a very methodical process - very satisfying to complete! It’s especially satisfying to know that the samples and data that I prepared today will go on to be used and analysed by other scientists – it won’t just sit around as one more piece of random research in the world – it’s
something concrete and useful.
That does sound really cool. What did you study at university?
I studied Biology at the University of Sheffield and graduated last summer. I’d studied Maths, Geography and Biology at A-level but I wanted to go into conservation, and Biology as an undergrad made the most sense for that career path.
And what attracted you to this internship placement?
During my degree I became more interested in environmental policy, so I’ve chosen to do my Masters in Environmental Policy and Management at Bristol, starting in September. This placement at the Biology centre in EBD is really well linked to what I’ll be doing from September, and it’s especially interesting at the moment as there are currently a lot of policies being put into place around vultures, which are affecting their distribution and their foraging, and we’re monitoring that.
The project I’m working on is also to do with how policy is affecting vulture species in a wider sense; for example, we’re looking at how society views vultures, and looking at public perceptions of vultures, which is really interesting and also closely link to the sort of work I want to go into. One of my professors at university once told us that if we’d wanted to change the world, we should have chosen Economics - not Biology! I took that on board and am trying
to combine biology with policy and economics, and this placement fits really well into that combined path.
What are you enjoying most about the placement?
I feel really lucky to have found and been accepted onto this specific placement. It’s been amazing and I feel like I’ve gained so much confidence. I’ve learnt loads of different lab techniques – I didn’t do too much lab work in my undergrad degree, so this placement is really compensating
for that! We also use lots of Maths and R-coding, which I really wanted to get more experience with. And I’ve improved my scientific writing; my supervisor checks over what I’ve written and adjusts it, and I always look over the changes and try to build on them for the next thing I write. Before this, I was still very much at undergrad level in every aspect. But nowadays I feel much more comfortable with the idea of applying for a PhD or higher-level research or post-graduate-level jobs after the Masters, as I now have experience carrying out not just fieldwork, but top-quality lab methods and writing to professional standards. I’ve learnt so much!
Any challenging aspects?
It can be quite full-on sometimes; for example, in preparation for using new methods in the lab, my supervisor sends me scientific papers so I can read up on the background of the research that we’re continuing with. However, the papers – including the methods sections – are usually in Spanish! So I try and translate those to English to understand the instructions before going into the lab! But it’s so rewarding as I’m learning new things everyday, and I always enjoy the work I’m doing. It’s giving me so much valuable experience. And you get to network all the time as the building is crawling with scientists, and everyone’s always doing very exciting projects!
How's it been in general, getting by in Spanish?
I've been wanting to learn another language for a while, but I never had the ‘’inspiration’’ to really take on the challenge. It’s so different trying to learn a language in Britain compared with learning it in the country itself... I’ve never especially had a great head for languages, but here I’ve loved it. I’ve gone from speaking absolutely no Spanish to being able to communicate in the shops and in restaurants, and stringing some sentences
together in conversation! I’ve now got notebooks full of
vocabulary so I’m definitely going to try and keep up with
lessons in the UK!
Nice!! And what about your experience of being in Seville – how’s it been so far?
Seville’s now my favourite city in the world. I’ve been to a fair few cities so it’s not like I’m just comparing it to, say, Hull(!) (Sorry Hull.) Seville is just so cool, pretty and relaxed... I love the culture of eating out and drinking out... the chilled vibes... cycling everywhere, and the beautiful buildings. If I could find work, I would stay here. I definitely want to try and come back to live here.
Any idea where you hope to see yourself in a few years’ time?
The ultimate goal would be to work for an environmental conservation agency – somewhere like the Rainforest Alliance or the WWF, working on policy, sustainability or environmental protection - they’re all interlinked. We’ll see!