6 October 2015

A field course in the Amazon gave a prizewinning student a taste for research

Leyla Page “is interested in everything in the world around me”, which is why she decided to study geography.

“It’s the only subject that lets you study bits of everything: sociology, politics, it lets you do them all,” says Leyla, who won the 2015 Lancaster Environment Centre Prize for the top performing student in a BA programme.

She chose to leave her London home and come Lancaster University because “when I came to the Open Day everyone was extremely friendly, more so than at any other university, and Lancaster is really good for my subject.”

Despite “enjoying every single week” of her studies, when Leyla started her third year she had no plans to stay on at university after graduation: her aim was to go teaching in China.  Then she went on a ten day field course in the Brazilian Amazon. It gave her a taste of how research can also involve bits of everything.

“We went to an ecological reserve in the middle of nowhere, and to an impoverished urban area. We learnt about corruption and environmental problems. You can’t believe things are that bad until you have someone standing in front of you telling you that his family had received death threats because of illegal mining in his reserve.”

The group came from different disciplines, not just physical and human geographers, but ecologists as well, which Leyla really enjoyed. She’s now sharing a house with one of the ecology students she met on the trip.

“We wrote a reflective diary at the end of each day, connecting the different themes. Every day we were doing research. I came back wanting to do a masters.”

Leyla’s enthusiasm for research was re-inforced when doing her undergraduate dissertation: where she worked with French company Wezzoo on a mobile weather App.

“The App provides a weather nowcast, rather than a forecast,” Leyla explains.

Instead of weather coming from monitoring stations, people monitor the weather where they are, uploading a data point called a wezzoo, and sometimes a photo as well.

Using statistics, GIS and qualatitive research with customers in Thailand, the USA and the UK, Leyla identified the aspects of the App that customers really liked, and the aspects that weren’t working.

The dissertation won the Lancaster Environment Centre Innovation Prize, making Leyla a double prizewinner.

Leyla is now starting an MSc in Ecology (by research) with Dr Luke Parry, one of the course leaders on the Amazon trip. She is exploring child nutrition and food insecurity in remote areas in Brazil.

Her interest in food security began when she studied a module on global food systems. “Food is such a fundamental part of every day life. We looked at food insecurity, and how you measure it.”

In her masters, Leyla will be analysing different nutrition profiles of children, and relating these to vulnerability and resiliance.

Leyla also gained a passion for canoeing while an undergraduate, becoming president of the Lancaster University Canoe Club. She’d never done white water canoeing before arriving at Lancaster but, having moved to the North West, found lots of opportunities on her doorstep.

“The Canoe Club became like a family to me. I got involved in canoe polo, and now spend my holidays canoeing. Where I live after this year will depend on the availability of white water.”