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Stephanie Bird BSc Biology, 2008

Scientist in Plant Health

Stephanie Bird's Photo

As a degree subject, biology also offers a solid set of transferable skills; it is a science, it has mathematical elements and it also necessitates essay writing.

Biology is the science of life and living organisms and I’ve always been interested in the natural world so a degree in biology was the best choice for me. As a degree subject, biology also offers a solid set of transferable skills; it is a science, it has mathematical elements and it also necessitates essay writing. You also get a lot for your money studying a science.

I attended the Southampton open day and had a chance to look round both the University campus and the town. I really liked how green the campus was, I was very impressed with Hartley Library and the students’ union area and the transport links both between the university and surrounding areas were very good. 

The field trip to Spain in the first year was definitely the highlight for me. It was my first ever taster of taxonomy and identification. I wanted to know what everything was, how it was related to other living things and to understand all the complex interactions between them. Publishing my undergraduate dissertation was another highlight. It was so exciting to be first author on a paper in a journal that up until that point I’d only cited from and wiring about a subject that was important to me.

At present, I am a scientist in Plant Health based at RHS Wisley. My main focus is a survey looking at the pollinator-friendly plants being grown in UK gardens and I am completing preparatory work for future integrated pest management approaches of the box tree moth caterpillar. I also spend a large portion of my time answering the plant disease inquiries that RHS members send in. The RHS is a charity and my job here allows me the opportunity to continue research and to interact with members of the public about science. It also allows me to continue my fascination with plants, insects and fungi at RHS Wisley, which is absolutely gorgeous should you ever visit! 

I may one day want to go back into academia but for the moment my role at the RHS is the perfect job for me. One day I would like to become a national recorder for a group of invertebrates, though that would be in my spare time!

My advice for anyone wishing to break into a similar career is that you should volunteer with insect collections, join local natural history societies that have field trips where they identify plants/insects and look into FSC courses. If you are going to do a PhD then this will help, but wait until the right one for you comes along (or go out and make your dream one happen), three to four years is a long time to spend on something that you are not passionate about.

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