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    COVID Diaries: From out in the field to desk review with Ben Rodrick

    14 May 2020

    While Covid-19 has disrupted our day to day lives and imposed a variety of challenges, our students have proven in the last few weeks how adaptable they are to change. They have taken it in their stride to undertake lessons in a new, online way and have had to adapt to collating research through new methods. One such student is Ben Rodrick, studying MSc Aquaculture, who’s Masters Review Project (MRP) is now taking the form of desk-based evidence synthesis.

    “The original intent of my MRP project was to assess existing hyperspectral optical instruments, currently used for municipal and recreational water quality assessment, and justify their application and relevance in an aquaculture setting,” Ben explained. “The objective was to verify several key water quality parameters; ensure they are measurable within the necessary ranges and tolerances; and thus validate their relevance to aquaculture, using the findings to inform a risk-assessment process.”

    However, Ben’s original plan had to take on a new design as lockdown came into effect. He said: “Before the outbreak in the UK, I had already arranged a collaborative project team with manufacturers in The Netherlands who were already offering these instruments and were interested in breaking into a new market. We had arranged meetings around Europe with various team members to conduct preliminary tests and explore capabilities beyond the 'out of the box solution'. The COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to these preliminary tests and any prospects of collecting primary data in the near future.

    “This seemed like a huge obstacle. However, shifting the focus from field-study to a desk-study offered a solution with some significant benefits. Firstly, the literature review and knowledge gathered to date was not wasted. Secondly, utilising extensive existing research offered a fresh - and more complete - picture of the relevance of my study, reducing bias, and utilising data from various studies and optical instruments. Finally, the scope of the study has expanded to highlight a broader range of water quality parameters, offering a better understanding of if and how hyperspectral optical instruments can or cannot be used for aquaculture water quality risk assessment.”

    Having discovered the positive changes in refocusing his study, Ben shared his new aims: “The intention is to present the findings as a systematic review and map to visualise any gaps or limitations of the application of optical technologies. Taking this approach now seems like it would have been appropriate and more valuable to the wider scientific community from the start, building the foundational research underpinning subsequent studies that apply and validate the findings.

    “This is also beneficial for the manufacturer in the collaborative team as they can benchmark their products against their competitors and understand where they need to invest time and research in developing capabilities that are better aligned with aquaculture water risk quality assessment.”

    As a Masters student, Ben is more familiar working online than some of our undergraduate students. He said: “In my work and current academic structure I am working remotely quite often, so it’s not a drastic change for me. Having more online resources and webinars has actually helped me manage my time between work and studies better as it's much more flexible than attending in-person.

    “The key difference is that I don't get the hands-on experience I was hoping for or get to see my friends in Tilstock! However, it has emphasised that I can adapt to change; a valuable skill for academia and professional career progression.”

    Ben returned to education eight years after graduating from his undergraduate degree course. He commented: “My reasoning for returning to academia as a mature student was to retrain for a completely new career.

    “Harper is a very focused university that emphasises both practical and theoretical learning with great facilities and academics. I wanted to study at a university that facilitates both and offers the opportunity to put into practice new skills and knowledge before looking for career opportunities.”

    Ben chose to come to Harper knowing he could balance work and education, developing a new set of skills to take into the workplace. He commented: “The two-year part-time Masters course structure also offered compatibility with distance learning while continuing to work full time in London. There were also some other logistical benefits: having friends to stay with locally in Tilstock; a short drive from my home in London - which is just about do-able first thing on a Monday and last thing on a Friday - and the 'holiday' of escaping London for a bit of peace and quiet in the countryside.”

    All of these combined elements have helped Ben achieve successful results, even in the current difficult circumstances.

    With retraining for a new career in mind, Ben shared his future ambitions: “I want to continue my studies and collaboration with manufacturers to develop tools specific to aquaculture and sustainable protein production. I am hoping to do this alongside working in my current job and slowly phasing towards a career focused on aquaculture completely.”

    Although Ben doesn’t regret his career journey to date, he is happy to be making a change. He explained: “Make sure you are happy and are following a career or area of study that engages you, and if not, change it. Harper has offered a unique way of managing full-time work along with studying and broadening my horizons and I am very grateful to have had the chance to do so.”

    Should you be interested in adding some new skills to your CV to help make changes in your career path, you can see our range of Masters courses here. For further information on all of our degrees that matter, please click here.

    COVID Diaries: From out in the field to desk review with Ben Rodrick



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