Samantha Gray, BSc Geography

Geography student Samantha Gray, worked with Lancaster based company Simply Ecology as part of the Science and Technology Internship Programme.

How and why did you choose to work with business?

"Once the internship popped up on the Science & Technology Internship Programme website, I was very taken by it. The description required someone with a keen interest in nature and a willingness to learn more. Although I was a Geography student, rather than Ecology, I have always had a strong interest in wildlife and wanted to give it a go. Thankfully, they saw my enthusiasm and recognised the range of transferable skills I’d built up throughout university and decided to give me a chance."

Had you worked with a business or organisation before starting your project with the company?

"Before working for Simply Ecology, I had previously worked with another company called LESS (Local and Effective Sustainable Solutions) in Lancaster, who had agreed to fund an internship with me the previous summer. I was therefore confident in the internship scheme and hopeful in what skills and experience I might gain through it."

What problem did the organisation face? What did they ask you to do to help them?

"Simply Ecology is a small, yet growing business. With only 3 full time members of staff and an expanding workload, they were keen for someone to help ease the burden. They gave me a specific project analysing camera trap footage and plotting this data onto a map using my GIS skills, helping them to decipher the movements of badgers in relation to a nearby development."

What skills did you use and develop working with the company? Did you learn any new skills?

"I was treated as a trainee ecologist in this role, which was fantastic. They spent a lot of time teaching me surveying techniques for bats, birds and habitats. This involved a lot of botanical knowledge for grasses and wildflowers, which I knew very little beforehand, yet felt much more competent at the end of my placement. I also developed my skills in report writing, excel and GIS in a practical workplace environment."

What did you do?

"I got stuck in with as many surveys as possible to make sure I learnt quickly. I spent a lot of time out on different sites, helping to carry out bat and habitat surveys, as well as working in the office to write up reports and analyse data. The role involved a good balance of indoor and outdoor working, which was refreshing and kept me motivated."

Did you get paid? Did it cost you anything? What expenses did you have and were they paid for by the organisation?

"The internship was fully funded by both Santander and Simply Ecology, therefore it didn’t cost me anything and I got paid! This was above minimum wage and really helped me to save up over the summer. Any expenses I had were all covered by the company."

What was the best thing you think you did for the business?

"Due to the workload they had, it was important that I hit the ground running and learnt fast. I became part of the team very quickly and pulled my weight to ensure the work was completed on time. As an intern, I was tasked with smaller jobs, but these were vital to ensure the other ecologists were freed up to take on more work. For instance, I spent a long time analysing camera trap footage for badgers and mapped their movements, allowing the ecologists to make an informed decision about how a proposed nearby development could affect them."

What was the best thing about the project for you?

"The best thing about the project for me was bat surveying. During the summer we were often out at crazy times doing dawn and dusk bat surveys and, whilst it was tiring, I loved being outside and seeing some fantastic displays. I really enjoyed getting up close to wildlife and being surrounded by other ecologists who knew their stuff and appreciated it as much as me."

What was the result- has it lead to more projects?

"The internship scheme was particularly successful for the company and it has certainly led to an improved relationship with Lancaster University. Of the four current full time staff, three of these are graduates from Lancaster. I know the company hopes to work again with the university in the future and provide more opportunities for students to learn ecological skills and gain vital experience."

Did you get a job because of it?

"Yes! Since finishing my placement, I spent some time working for the RSPB to gain more experience in conservation and land management. A year later, I was approached by Simply Ecology again and offered a job! I am now working for the company full time as a Business Ecologist – a position specifically created for me, where I help with both the business development of the company as well as the ecological surveying."

What career do you hope to pursue at the end of your course and how has your project helped you achieve that? Did it help you make any decisions on your career?

"Rather than battling with other graduates across the UK, the internship scheme has a smaller pool of applicants and therefore gives you more opportunity to try out something new. In my case, working with Simply Ecology opened my eyes to the idea of ecology and conservation. As a Geography student, I worried I wouldn’t have the right skillset for ecology, however my placement helped me to recognise the importance of the transferable skills I had already developed at university. It certainly gave me a huge confidence boost and a head start to face the world of work. I would definitely recommend giving it a go!"

Can you describe what it’s like studying at a top global 1% Lancaster University?

"Studying at Lancaster really made me feel part of an important and highly ranked institution. I love the sense of community on campus and its beautiful location. The facilities are all brand new and constantly improving, the staff are friendly and encouraging, and the students are bright and keen to learn. I gained so many skills and experiences from my time here and it led the way to many fantastic opportunities for the future."

Would you recommend your course to prospective students? If so, why?

"I would definitely recommend Geography to prospective students. It is such a broad and fascinating subject. I had the option to study a range of physical and human modules, which didn’t limit or constrain me. It also offered many opportunities from work placement dissertations, internships and the chance to travel to the Amazon rainforest! I gained a whole host of strong transferable skills with this course, making myself very desirable as a graduate from a top 10 institution. "