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Musings of a Marine Biology Undergrad – What to Expect From Field Trips

I feel like that’s the most long winded blog title I’ve ever written…

Honestly though, when you apply for a biology degree, you’d be lying if you said field trips hadn’t crossed your mind. I know I turned down one university because they allocated me onto a degree where I would’ve gone to Sweden in the middle of February, whereas the other degrees on the same spectrum went to places like Mexico or Cuba. I’m more than happy to bundle up into a snowsuit, but not when my class mates are wearing bikinis and scuba diving in coral reefs!

Most unis will draw you in with a big field trip (Aberdeen’s was Florida – a course which they cancelled before I could take it… thanks!), but that’s likely not the only one. Getting you out into the field is part and parcel of a biology degree, to put you in real-life data collection situations. I was out on a field trip last week, and realised that so many people will only think of the big trips to a tropical country, they may forget about all the local ones. So here’s a low down on what to expect on your average, day out field trip!

Grey seals hauled out along the banks of the Ythan Estuary, Newburgh Beach, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

It’s going to be cold!

Uni term time is from September to April for most people, and your field trips will occur in the middle-ish of term. Not the warmest times of the year! So invest in a good coat or two. And a hat. And a scarf. And some gloves. Definitely some good gloves.

Preparation is key

No doubt before a field trip you’ll be sent some supplementary info. Read it, then read it again. There’s nothing worse than turning up for a full day in the field and missing some basic kit. Trust me!

Group of Biology Students Collecting Samples in the Mud

It’s worth investing in some good kit

Solid walking boots, waterproof clothing, a fancy thermos. May all seem a bit much from the sidelines, but when you’re knee deep in mud on a river bank taking core samples, it all becomes necessary. And be conservative with the pretty stuff. I’m all for a floral thermos, but ankle wellies with cute bows on them won’t just get ruined; you’ll be walking around with shoes full of mud all day!

Not an outdoorsy person?

Pick a different degree. Working in the field is one of the core skills you’ll learn as a biologist. If you don’t like the outdoors, you’ll be in for a shock. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s cold, usually wet, and you need to be hands on. Sounds like a living nightmare? Perhaps you should look at studying something else…

They are great fun!

Once you get over the cold and the rain, and recover from how much you spend on kit, you actually get to see some pretty cool stuff that might be completely out of your reach if not for the trip. We go to Forvie National Nature Reserve at least once a year now, and it’s always so cool! Plus, ya know, seals…

Grey Seal swimming in the water

You learn some incredibly useful skills

Field based skills are one of the most important, employable skills you’ll learn whilst studying for a biology degree. Whether it’s population counts or how to extract organisms from different substrates, it’s useful skills to know!

You’ll make a lot of friends

You’re all in this together, and field work goes hand in hand with group work. It’s a good chance to get to know people you might not normally sit with or talk to. It also brings your class closer as a group. And nothing brings up your teamworking skills like trying to get through everything quickly so you can go back inside!

Cliffs at Bullers o' Buchan, Aberdeenshire

Hopefully I haven’t put you off. Field trips are the best part of a biology degree, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy day off of studying. Don’t even get my started on the stats afterwards. Stats are evil…

Have you ever been on an amazing field trip? What was your favourite part? Let me know in the comments!

Rachel

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2 Comments

  1. February 2, 2018 / 3:04 pm

    Field trips weren’t a thing in my undergraduate degree, but I did help with some other research where I got to go to Southern California for a few days and for my job I’m almost always outside. I’m going on my first proper university field course in April to South Africa for marine biology, actually! I can’t wait to dive again.

    • February 4, 2018 / 2:49 pm

      Oh that sounds amazing! I hope you have fun! I’m very jealous; South Africa is amazing for diving!

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