The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Frances Mullany MSci Zoology, 2017

Frances Mullany's Photo

Final year Zoology student Frances shares her experience of studying at Southampton.

The whole experience was absolutely insane and incredible at the same time – one of my biggest passions has always been wildlife presenting, Sir David Attenborough and Chris Packham were huge idols off mine growing up, and so the opportunity to get a taste of that world was absolutely phenomenal. It was exciting to see the public engage with zoology and the wildlife around them, something that’s so important to me, and knowing that we made that happen was an amazing feeling.

 

Why did you choose to study this course at Southampton? Was it a good choice?

Having grown up in a rural village, coming to live in a city was a huge change for me. But after going to an open day, Southampton felt like a place I could live. It felt friendly and safe, and the green spaces around campus made it feel so open. Meeting some of the academics within the department, they were so approachable and passionate about they do, it was incredibly inspiring. Seeing how ready and willing they were to support their students, it made me comfortable with the idea of living and studying here, I could imagine being happy at Southampton. Not to mention, as an aspiring zoologist, the decision to go to the university where Chris Packham is an alumnus was a no-brainer!

What has been your highlight of studying at Southampton?

The opportunities to get involved with fieldwork while studying zoology at Southampton have been amazing. The trip to Spain in 1st year introduced me to working in the field, and from that moment on, I’ve been hooked. I returned to Spain as a demonstrator in my 2nd year, as well as completing other field skills modules including one consisting of day trips to the New Forest, which I’ve also later returned to as a demonstrator. Through carrying out fieldwork together during these modules, the community within the department is much more close-knit than others. Spending that time and sharing those experiences with both students and staff alike right from the get-go, really makes for amazing relationships in the workplace and creates a fantastic foundation for the rest of your time here.

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Central Belize (Central America) on an independent expedition to study tropical butterfly diversity for my 4th year research project. It was absolutely incredible, we even weathered an unexpected hurricane while we were out there – a once in a lifetime experience that I’ll never forget! That also means my project now looks at the impact of the hurricane disturbance on butterfly diversity, making it very unique – so much so that we just presented our preliminary findings at the European Tropical Ecology Conference in Brussels!

What do you enjoy most about studying here?

I received incredible support throughout my degree from members of staff in the department. I’ve always felt there’s someone I can go to if I’m worried about anything, whether that be my tutor, supervisors, lecturers, or even PhD students. The community within the department is fantastic, everyone’s very friendly and professional which has meant I’ve always felt safe in the knowledge that any concerns I may voice will be met with understanding and help where I need it. I’ve learnt that if you show your lecturers that you want to engage with your studies and you want to get involved, then they will be more than happy to help you in return. I’ve found that whenever I’ve asked lecturers for help or advice, they’ve never hesitated to make time for a meeting and give me their full attention, despite how busy they must be and menial my problem might feel. Developing personal relationships with my supervisors has made me feel very secure and happy in the department, I don’t think I would have wanted to study my undergraduate anywhere else.

Tell us about the robin research you’ve been doing and your experience on BBC Radio.

My third year undergraduate research project, in conjunction with another student Chloe Fulford and our supervisor Dr Judith Lock, looked at the impact of urban living on a population of robins living right here in Southampton Common. The idea was to see if light and noise pollution in the robins’ territories affects the aggressiveness of their behaviour and their territoriality. It turned out that it does, quite negatively in fact, suggesting that the light and noise pollution results in poorer territory quality for the robins which has the potential to have many knock-on effects. It made for a great third year dissertation, it was something that had never really be done before as it was quite unique in using a behavioural approach to study urban ecology and conservation.

Since the study had been such a success at this point my supervisor and I decided to submit it to be shown at the British Ecological Society annual meeting last December, one of the biggest ecological conferences of the year. The organisers liked our proposal so much, that they requested that we deliver an oral presentation on the research (something that very rarely happens, let alone for undergraduate work)! Everything was a whirlwind from that point on, from writing and practising the talk, to travelling up to Liverpool, then the talk itself, and the media interest that followed.

Before I even gave the talk, a BBC science reporter approached me at the conference asking for an interview, and afterwards a reporter from the New Scientist approached me as well. Within a day after the conference ended, my supervisor and I went to the recording studio and had live interviews with BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio Scotland, and BBC Radio Solent, with interest still coming from a plethora of other local stations! We had lots of conversations and interviews over the phone that day as well with reporters from BBC News, the Telegraph, and Daily Mail. The University’s media team and especially my supervisor made sure to keep in mind that as I was an undergraduate student there was a duty of care, and so were hugely supportive throughout, often liaising with reporters on my behalf.

The whole experience was absolutely insane and incredible at the same time – one of my biggest passions has always been wildlife presenting, Sir David Attenborough and Chris Packham were huge idols off mine growing up, and so the opportunity to get a taste of that world was absolutely phenomenal. It was exciting to see the public engage with zoology and the wildlife around them, something that’s so important to me, and knowing that we made that happen was an amazing feeling.

What do you wish to do in the future? Do you feel well prepared for this by your study here?

Ultimately, I want to work in wildlife conservation, whether that be through academic research, working for NGOs, or communications and media. I went into university with a love of animals, and now I’m coming out with an in-depth understanding of the threats they face and a burning desire to do something about it. The biological sciences department here is very interdisciplinary with the various research groups taking diverse and multi-faceted approaches within conservation biology. I think both this and the opportunities I’ve had to attend conferences and learn about current research at other universities, have given me a holistic and diverse understanding of conservation science. Whilst at Southampton, I’ve learnt that conservation isn’t only about the animals and plants; but that communication, engagement, inclusivity, and compassion towards other people are just as important. As such, I feel that my time here has prepared me for such a career, in terms of being able to apply the knowledge that I’ve gained to a variety of situations within wildlife conservation that I’d be likely to encounter.

 

 

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