Thursday 20 October 2016

Tips for carrying out a dissertation

Having to carry out a research project/dissertation is something that all students will come across at some point during their studies, as it forms an essential component of many degree programmes. Being able to complete a dissertation of high standard is not only imperative for those who wish to pursue academic careers, it is also advantageous for those following other career paths such as industry, as the wide range of skills required for carrying out a good research project can be applied to many other aspects of work. 

Examples of skills developed through working on an independent research project:

  • Independent/autonomous study
  • Critical thinking
  • Initiative
  • Time management
  • Organization
  • Communication
  • Data collection and analysis
  • Writing
  • Perseverance
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Meeting deadlines
  • Use of specialist programs and equipment

After spending months working on my dissertation and finally completing my Master's degree, I wanted to make a post highlighting important tips for carrying out a successful dissertation while everything is still fresh in my mind.

1. Start your literature review first

Always start a project by searching for and reading relevant literature. This sounds obvious, but so many people seem to dive into a project and start making aims and hypotheses and collecting data before they know what has already been done. Start reviewing the literature surrounding your study first so you have an idea of what information is already out there, what works, what doesn't work, and whether there are any gaps in the knowledge that your project can potentially fill.

2. Record everything

Keep a notebook dedicated to your project, and use it to record everything. EVERYTHING. How much time you have spent on certain tasks, lists of what you need to do, the dates and times of data collection, name and make of equipment used, potential factors that may affect your results etc. This way when you come to writing up the methodology of your thesis/dissertation, most of the work has already been done for you. 

3. Get organized

Linked to point number 2, getting organized is essential to carrying out a good project. If you manage your time wisely, you won't have to rush through important sections of your project, meaning your grades will be better. Using a planner or even simple to-do lists will go a long way!

4. Reference as you go 

So many students tend to leave the references and citations for last as they think this will save time when writing up, when actually this just leads to more time wasted later on trying to remember who you're meant to be citing and which paper to include in the bibliography. It's always better to reference as you go along! Also, there are so many programs that can help you do this (See Mendeley,  EndNote, etc).

5. Think about the statistics before you start

It is important to think about what data you'll be collecting and which statistical analyses you should use before you start data collection. Although statistics put chills down the spine of every student, figuring out what statistics you'll need to do first will save a lot of time (and tears) when you come to start your analyses. 

6. Refer to the guidelines!

Lastly, regularly check your project guidelines to ensure you're fulfilling the essential criteria needed to get the grades you want! There's nothing worse than putting all that time into a project only to find that you were penalized because you didn't use the reference style that was asked for.  

Thursday 16 June 2016

On being a Biology student

Time has flown by so fast this year! 

In January we had our first set of exams, then it was straight back into lectures from February until the start of May. We had a load of field trips, practical sessions and a three day field course (I love field courses). In May we had a Movement Ecology project to complete and also our field course assignments to do, and then it was straight back in to exams again! My last exam was at the start of June, and now we're working away on our dissertations which are due at the end of September. 

Although it has been busy and really hectic at times, I'm so glad I decided to do a Taught Master's degree. When I finished my Bachelor's degree, I was stuck in this awkward feeling of not quite being a scientist and as such not really knowing how to move forward in terms of my career. I chose to do a Master's degree not only because I thought it would improve my career prospects, but because I realized how much I love studying the many facets of biology (particularly ecology). Throughout this degree my affinity for learning has only gotten stronger, so much so that I am hoping to continue in academia and pursue a PhD. 

The moral of this post is that it's okay if you don't really have a career plan when you first start out in your studies (if you have one that's good) but you shouldn't panic if you don't because as long as you do what you really enjoy, you'll find that opportunities will present themselves eventually. And if not, have the courage to make opportunities for yourself.

Saturday 9 January 2016

2015 Overview, Start of 2016 and New Year Plant Hunt

2015 was a great year for me. I graduated from University with a 1st class Bachelor's degree. I had a great summer working with a scientist I have admired for much of my degree and attended Unkown Wales Conference in Cardiff to see the results of some of our work being presented. This is also the year I started my Master's degree in Environmental Biology. At the start of my new degree in September, I made myself some goals to stick to in order to get the best from myself and make sure I was giving my all. Now with 2016 in full swing it's time to re-evaluate and jump right back in to my education. 

The New Year has already started well for me. I took part in the New Year Plant Hunt run by the BSBI (See here for more info) and managed to record 15 species. I have also decided to start recording more frequently and have began compiling a year list of species, which is something I haven't done before. The rest of January is going to be busy with exams and a GIS project to do along with a few Wildlife Trust events to attend, but what I'm looking forward to most is the start of new modules in February on ecosystems, movement ecology and environmental management, all of which are subjects I'm really interested in. I'm also looking forward to doing more volunteer work with the Vetch (a project I'm coordinating in Swansea in conjunction with VetchVeg and Discovery SVS) and also with the National Trust. 

Herb Robert, Geranium robertianum - one of the plants recorded for the New Year Plant Hunt 2016

2015 Achievements
1. Got a 1st in my degree
2. Carried out ~40hrs volunteer work
3. Got experience surveying dune slacks
4. Awarded Florence A Mockeridge Award at Swansea University

2016 Goals
1. Continue to treat education as my full time job and give 100% at all times
2. Networking - go to more events, get involved more often and talk to more people
3. Learn new skills/get more experience
4. Read more scientific literature

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Exploring South Gower

This weekend my boyfriend and I managed to get down South Gower and have a little explore. I love that I live not so far away from this place! You can go to Gower a million times and each time will be a unique experience. We came across some pretty flowers - saw my first Golden Samphire and I recorded my first Tachina grossa, a large Tachinid fly! Will be returning within the next few weeks to get a shot of Autumn Ladies Tresses, Spiranthes spiralis in flower.

Small Scabious, Scabiosa columbaria

Rock Samphire, Crithmum maritimum

Golden Samphire, Limbarda crithmoides

Tachina grossa

Sunday 9 August 2015

Undergraduate Degree - Survival Tips

So I graduated in July with a 1st Class Bachelor's of Science degree in Biology (yay!). It was a great three years and I've learnt so much from it, not only about biology but also how to persevere and stay organized!. As it's now August and nearing the start of a new academic year, I thought it would be fitting to make my first post about essential tips for university survival.

A very nervous me at graduation!

Tips for surviving your undergrad 

1. Be organized! This is the most important thing. Get a planner/calendar, and use it to keep track of coursework, directed reading, social dates, shopping etc. You will be busy at university, so managing your time is important. This blog is so useful when it comes to organization for university - the author is an organization nut just like me!

2. Don't skip lectures. You're paying all this money to get a good degree, don't waste it by not going to lectures! Even if you think a class might be pointless, go anyway. I can guarantee you will miss out on something if you don't turn up. If you're like me you will go just for the satisfaction of knowing you gave it your all.

3. Use the library. For the past three years, the campus library has been my home away from home. I live about 10 miles away from my campus, and so when I go to uni all of my spare time for that day (unless I have errands to run) is spent in the library doing assignments, directed reading and such, which means work gets done and I have less work to do when I go home! 

4. Don't leave things until the last minute. This kind of goes hand in hand with number 3, but it's so important that I don't mind writing it down twice. When you get a piece of coursework, start it right away. Same goes with directed reading. If you leave things until the day before they're due in your work won't reflect your true potential, and you won't get the grades you want. Little and often is the key to things like research and reading, and that way you're basically revising your classes all the way through the year and you will be in better standing come exam period.

5. Make notes. I am obsessed with note taking, so this is easy for me. It's important to take notes based on lecture material, even if your lecturer provides you with handouts or you have the notes online anyway. Make notes, and put them in your own words! The best way I have found to do this is to make a summary page for each lecture I have. That way I can easily refresh my memory on the main points of each topic, which helps a lot during revision. 

6. Do your own work! This is probably the most important point of all. Whatever you do, do your own work. Don't copy off others. Don't work with a partner on coursework. Don't let anyone read over your work before it's handed in. Your grades will suffer and so will your reputation, and the person you're copying off will also suffer. Be original!