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Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Ellie Ward MSci Marine Biology (Integrated Masters) 2019

Ellie Ward's Photo

The National Oceanography Centre Southampton is the ideal place to study marine biology. It’s down on the waterfront, the research ships moor just outside and it’s really got an academic buzz. Lecturers are welcoming and everyone is so passionate about their subjects. I came here on an open day and knew it was the place for me.

What have been the highlights of your degree?

I spent half a year in the Norwegian Arctic studying at UNIS, the University Centre, in Svalbard, as part of the international Erasmus scheme. There were 20 of us from around the world and we took courses in subjects including arctic biology and ecology with plenty of fieldwork. It was an amazing experience and changed my life.

Svalbard’s capital Longyearbyen is 78 degrees north. Our exchange programme began in June when it was 24 hours of daylight and when I left in December we’d already had five weeks of 24 hour complete darkness.

In the far north, everything changes as the year progresses, birds migrate, arctic foxes change colour from brown to white and, of course, there are polar bears. Reindeer were my personal favourite. It was almost like being part of Sir David Attenborough’s programme Planet Earth!

One of the first things you learn is how to handle a rifle as there are polar bears around just outside town. Of course, no-one wants to shoot them but it’s an essential safety precaution.

I love being in wilderness places, four of us used to go out hiking and camping in the summer and one of us had to stay awake to watch out for bears. We did encounter one just 50 metres away from us but thankfully he ran off.

Studying in a small group in Svalbard and getting involved in so much field work gave me so much experience and confidence when I came back to Southampton to complete my degree. I would encourage any student who wants to make the most of their degree to apply for the chance to study abroad, you won’t regret it.

What are you doing now?

Back at university after my time in the Arctic, I knew I wanted to continue with my polar focus. One of my lecturers, Professor Martin Solan, who had started work as part of the £16million Changing Arctic Ocean Seafloor (ChAOS) project and I was fortunate enough to get a place on a research cruise in the Barents Sea in summer 2018.

I’m using the results of the experiments we carried out there on the Arctic sea floor ecosystem in my Masters dissertation.

Scientists on board observed the sea ice had retreated a great deal since the last research cruise a year earlier. Climate change means the Arctic Ocean is one of the most rapidly changing environments on the planet and we need to understand more about these processes.

I am grateful for my place on the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) ship RRS James Clark Ross alongside experienced researchers and PhD students, it was a dream come true.

What has it been like to study at the University of Southampton?

The National Oceanography Centre Southampton is the ideal place to study marine biology. It’s down on the waterfront, the research ships moor just outside and it’s really got an academic buzz. Lecturers are welcoming and everyone is so passionate about their subjects. I came here on an open day and knew it was the place for me.

There are so many opportunities here. Earlier in the degree I undertook more generalised modules in Earth sciences and mathematics that have complemented Marine Biology very well.

Looking ahead, I know I want to continue in research and apply for a PhD but I’m not sure yet exactly what topic to choose. I’m planning to take some research jobs after I graduate and make my decision then.

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