Student experiences

Merlin Becker on placement

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10 October 2013

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Merlin Becker, 22, from the Republic of Ireland, graduated in 2013 with a BSc (Hons) Countryside and Environmental Management degree. He spent his placement as an Assistant Scientific Researcher in Scotland with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, a charity dedicated to biodiversity, conservation and management.

What attracted you to Harper Adams? 

It gives the best option of both academic and practical study.

Why did you choose your course?

The course suited my interests perfectly, it was hands on with a good focus on environmental and wildlife conservation.

Tell us a little about what it involves (e.g. lessons, exams, practicals, field trips, etc.)

There was a good mix of field trips (an excellent ecology trip in 1st year to Slapton Ley) in each of the years and a great opportunity to taste working life with the placement year.

What has made your time at uni special? 

The people I have met along the way, especially the Harper “friends and family” as I like to call them; the excellent staff from cleaners, kitchen ladies (Pam ‘the Legend’ Hughes in particular) to the knowledgeable lecturers.

Do you think it is beneficial to get a formal qualification, rather than going straight to work after school/sixth form?

University broadens your view on life and your horizons through contacts and friends. It gives you a focus on what you really want as a career and life style.

Did the fact that Harper Adams offers a placement year influence your decision to study here?

Yes. Placement gives you an extra edge on other graduates who did not have the opportunity to work for a year as part of their studies.

Tell us a bit about your work placement.

It was in Scotland (the Borders and Highlands) with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (a game and wildlife research charity dedicated to biodiversity conservation and management). I was an Assistant Scientific Researcher.

How did you find the job?

I found it through Harper Adams and was encouraged massively by the previous placement student who had an amazing year.

What would a typical day on placement be like? 

Walking miles across beautiful heather moorland monitoring grouse, birds of prey, mustelid and small mammal populations with a mixture of vegetation studies and black grouse, capercaillie, ptarmigan and red grouse population counting with working pointer dogs.

What was it like to work as part of a professional team?

Very rewarding as I worked to the best of my ability and this was really appreciated by all the staff; I felt a real part of the team. It built my confidence up and developed my communication skills, mammal/plant/avian identification skills and research skills through various company projects.

Did you discover talents/interests you were previously unaware of?

Yes. Small bird identification skills and learning more about the ecology of upland wading bird species.

What was the best thing about placement?

Holding a Hen Harrier chick in the palm of my hands on the Langholm Moor Demonetisation Project, one of the most memorable moments of my young life.

How does placement help your career opportunities?

It gives you invaluable contacts to potentially work for once again or to keep in contact with to acquire knowledge. In my personal case the GWCT will be one of the best contacts one could have for the upland conservation work that I hope to carry out in my own career on home soil in Ireland.

Has being on placement made you think any differently about your future career plans?

Yes, scientific researching would be a valuable side of upland conservation work but now I would like to have a more practical management career e.g. being more involved with habitat and predator management.

How did it influence your studies when you came back to uni?

It made me focus a significant amount of my time on upland ecology and I based my entire Honours Research Project on my data collection over the placement year.

What are your career plans? 

I plan to travel and work abroad, hopefully some wetland conservation work in Canada and then home to get involved with the conservation sector with a strong emphasis on game and wildlife management.

How do you think your course will help you with your career?

Massively, by helping me get the right job suited to my experience and knowledge gained from studying. Furthermore by having the renowned Harper Adams name behind you.

What opportunities do you think are available to Harper graduates?

There is an endless list of opportunities especially now with such a focus on environmental protection and enhancement in the EU and worldwide.                                             

What do you think of the teaching at Harper Adams?

Second to none, friendly and the best team of people to learn from.

And the facilities? 

Fantastic and ever growing.

What other activities have you been involved with?

Falconry, shooting, hill walking, bird watching, archery.

What have been the highlights of your time at uni? 

Exploring the UK from Scotland to the Isle of Wight visiting friends and their families; enjoying country sports all over the country; learning from all the friends and staff I have been blessed to meet along my four years at Harper Adams University.

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