Shannon is a BSc Zoology student and shares her experience finding and securing a 12 month placement with the Lough's Agency
The thought of placement seemed a lot more daunting than it really is. My experience of work placement began with looking for placements through the placement management system. This is when I came across the Loughs Agency Bursary Scheme.
Securing the job!
It immediately appealed to me because it offered a lot of field work experience which is something I really wanted from my placement. The process was very standard; an application form and interview. I was most worried about the interview process but after speaking to Mark Gallagher, it made the thought of the interview a lot less scary. After getting offered the job, the Loughs Agency made the process so easy, they sent me my contract and the details of the job and anything I needed to do before my first day. I was made to feel so comfortable and wasn’t afraid to ask any questions I had or for any help I needed.
Introduction to the workplace
Within the first two weeks I went straight into doing field work. We were lucky that we had such a nice summer with it being between 20-30°C most days so we got plenty of time out in the field. The main method for surveying we used was electrofishing which allowed me to improve my ID skills and learn how to handle both small fish and larger fish. It is great to be working on a project that does not just have local value but is a part of a much bigger objective. We also used this method for surveying during seasons where large sea trout will be migrating to the rivers for spawning. Learning how to work with and handle these larger wild animals in a safe way and quickly to not stress the animal as much as possible was extremely important.
Working with new equipment
The Loughs Agency also have large fish traps on several sites. We learned how to set the traps and how to handle and survey fish caught in the trap before releasing them safely. Working on the traps was the first experience with working on a very large fish, their strength and beauty was outstanding. Again, this method is non-destructive and allows us to gain some valuable data about the fish in these areas. Sea Trout caught in the trap were tagged, aiming to gain more information about their movement throughout the catchment.
One of the things I was most looking forward too was carrying out work on the boat. I was a part of the whole process from filling out the risk assessment, setting up equipment to use on the boat e.g. bathymetry equipment, and got to learn how to steer the boat using the electric engine. As well as this I learned more about how to communicate on a boat using port and starboard when giving directions to others as to avoid confusing.
Understanding the wider impact of habitat management
Going into my degree I had my main focus on studying animals as it has been my absolute passion since I was no age, but as I have been working in the industry, I have had my eyes opened to the work outside of surveying the animals alone that has such a big impact. The effort that goes into habitat management is so important and is something I have gained more knowledge in and have found a lot more interesting than I would have thought. I got to work with the Wild Trout Trust in a workshop focused on bank management. Aside from learning the method used to help stabilize a river bank, it was great to be able to work with another organisation and gain more knowledge and another perspective on why bank management is so important for rivers and how the method used will make a difference in improving the condition of this habitat.
I also have taken part in a tree planting project. Before my placement I didn’t put much thought into the importance of trees along the river bank specifically, but by getting to be a part of this project I learned more about the importance of trees providing shade, stabilizing the bank and providing debris in the river.
New skills, future opportunities
As the colder winter weather came around our work started to shift to more office-based work. With having such an amazing summer for field work we had plenty of reports to produce. Working on placement has taught me so much about producing reports and has improved my data analysis and writing skills massively. I learned the best way to structure reports, allowing them to flow easy and how to not be bias. I have also learned how to use different data analysis programmes I didn’t get the opportunity to use during university. As of right now I have worked on writing of three reports, one of which is already available on the loughs agency website along with doing data analysis on numerous projects. A great part of the job is that you get credited for everything you work on so you can show this to future employers that you have been one of the authors of these reports!
Bringing theory to life!
There is so many aspects of my studies at university that were brought to life when working in the industry that it would take too long to list them all but here is just a few;
Using scale samples to age fish is a method we had discussed in coastal and oceanic biology. While working at the Loughs Agency I got to use this method for two projects. I had a very basic knowledge of the process of aging fish using scales but actually getting to do this method has let me broaden my knowledge on how to actually do this method of reading the rings on a scale sample and how to take measurements of the scales.
I was a part of a survey of the Mourne river and Strule river (from Strabane to Omagh), where we walked along the river bank and recorded on a hand held GPS devise the invasive species present, focusing on Himalayan balsam, Japanese knotweed and giant hogweed, as well as recording any impacts such as bank erosion and no fencing. In the module applied ecology, I had learned a bit about giant hogweed. Being a part of a large survey such as this let me see the scale of the distribution of these invasive species and learn more about their effect and how easily they can be distributed causing such a wide detrimental spread.
Bathymetry surveys, using sonar to record depth of a water body, is a method I was taught in coastal and oceanic biology. I had only pictured bathymetry surveys being used on a much larger scale than a lough in Co. Tyrone, but I have had the opportunity to use this equipment at the Loughs Agency. We used bathymetry equipment to record the depth of loughs, creating 3D images of the lough that can be used to aid future planning of surveys. Being on placement let me see how these methods and techniques transfer from theory to real life projects and how valuable they can be!
Considering placement, DO IT!
My advice to students considering applying for work placement is DO IT! Besides how it will be beneficial when applying for jobs after university, it honestly has been just so enjoyable! There are very few days that placement has felt like “work” because it has been so much fun, it has completely made me fall in love with my degree and verified that this is what I want my future career to be. I have gain so much experience and knowledge that I don’t think I would be able to gain during my academic experience alone. Working in industry really opens up your eyes to the real world of science. Take advantage of the opportunity out there, local and abroad because you will not regret it. I can’t thank the staff at the Loughs Agency enough for letting me be a part of the team, it has been a blast!
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