The placement year for a Harper Adams student is a defining time. With a whole year at their finger tips, the opportunity presents itself as a time to grow as an individual; expand their knowledge; and thrive in the working world, putting their degree knowledge to the test.
Largely, students use this as a chance to try out something new, pushing the boundaries of the industry and hopefully finding a career path they are passionate about. Annabel Looker, a final year BSc (Hons) Wildlife Conservation and Natural Resource Management student, did exactly this, using her placement knowledge for her Honours Research Project.
"My study is on aggression in captive ring-tailed lemurs, a primitive primate species native to Madagascar," Annabel explained. "I was given the opportunity to work with the lemurs on my placement year which I was thrilled about.
"My role was based at the Lake District Wildlife Park where I worked as a zoo keeper. I've always been interested in animals and the wider environment as a whole, so the role was a great opportunity to combine both interests into a working experience."
Annabel gave an overview of her dissertation project, saying: "I'm researching the factors that influence aggression and the potential effect of group size. I wanted to research this to further the knowledge surrounding causation of aggression; establish if group size is a catalyst, and link my results to mitigation techniques.
"I was able to observe the troop of lemurs, recording their aggressive behaviours alongside additional factors like weather and husbandry tasks. Half way through my study, the troop was relocated to another collection. This gave me the opportunity to record the impacts of group size and assess the results.
"So far my results indicate that reducing group size significantly reduces aggression. Alongside this, aggression is higher during feeding. Hopefully this data can be used to create a calmer environment for the lemurs, reducing their group sizes and feeding in a more natural and varied way."
Now finalising her project, Annabel has been reflecting on her fortunate opportunity. She commented: "Due to the unique opportunities of my placement year, I was able to conduct my research while at the Wildlife Park. Fortunately that means I have all of my research to hand and can continue to work from home just as I could on campus."
On choosing her higher education path, Annabel said: "One of the reasons I chose to come to Harper Adams was for the placement year opportunity. It's given me the chance to try out a career I now know I want to pursue as well as acquire a skill set that has helped me to undertake this study.
"I would highly recommend other students considering how to use their placement year as a way to collect data for their research project; it means you always have a task to do, keeps you on top of academic work and gives you more time overall to write up your project!
"However, the main thing I have learnt from this experience is to take every opportunity given to you, keeping an open mind to different career paths. I never thought I would graduate wanting to be a zoo keeper! The placement year is a great time to find something you may never have considered and discover it has become your passion."
Annabel's passion is clear, especially pictured next to Muffin, the Brazilian tapir! If you are inspired by Annabel's story and want to read more about what our students and alumni get up to working in industry, check out our blogs here. Have a question about placement years, degree courses or university life in general? Ask us below!