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    Advent Day 10: Ten years of Entomology at Harper Adams University

    10 December 2022


    Day 10 - Ten Years of Entomology and IPM at Harper Adams

    In 2022, we marked ten years of entomology and IPM courses at Harper Adams.

    Earlier this year, Reader in Entomology Dr Tom Pope – part of the original team of entomologists who joined Harper Adams when a suite of dedicated Masters courses launched in 2012 - decided to ask some of the many alumni of the courses about their memories of Harper Adams, their course – and what they are doing now.

    With 10 years of entomology and integrated pest management students now making their way in the world, the response was overwhelming, with alumni from across their globe wanting to take part.

    Many spoke warmly of both their studies at Harper Adams, our campus, and in particular their lecturers – with many citing the impact, influence and knowledge of the late Professor Emeritus – and leading entomologist -  Simon Leather.

    Many are now applying their knowledge in industry or pursuing their interests through further study in all corners of the globe.

    In the new year, we will be running a series of pieces catching up with some of our alumni and where they are now – with this piece marking the first in a decade of memories.


    Craig Perle – who began his course in 2012/13 academic year

    What was it like studying at Harper?

    Sort of weird! I'd grown up in London and then studied for my undergraduate degree in a city and while I always enjoyed being in nature, suddenly being surrounded by agriculture students was a bit of a culture shock.

    There's nothing like attending a university with a working farm to make you realise you're a sheltered city person that doesn't know how a cow works.

    I was really excited about the course itself, I'd been disappointed by the relative lack of entomology courses during my undergrad studies so a whole year of only entomology was very appealing.

    It was also great to get to know more people that didn't think that crawling around in the dirt peering at insects was strange behaviour. There was plenty of other strange behaviour on campus but quietly digging through bracket fungi to extract all the saproxylic invertebrates was de rigueur.

    What is it like doing what you’re doing now?

    I'm most of the way through a postdoctoral research position at Arizona State University in the United States.

    My project aims to investigate the links between brain size, metabolic rate and sociality in seed-harvesting ants. The seed-harvesters exhibit varying degrees of social complexity among different species, making them a great model for investigating how brain structure and energy consumption interact with sociality.

    The practical upshot of all this is that I spend a lot of time picking ants up in the desert, and taking them back to the lab to examine them. It's a really fascinating project and I'm very lucky to be working in a lab where I can learn a lot about insect physiology.

    Also, the Sonoran desert is absolutely spectacular and being able to professionally go outside and enjoy those landscapes is a real privilege.

    How did the first prepare you for the second?

    In more ways than I probably remember. I'm pretty certain that from my PhD position to both postdoc positions the entomological expertise the MSc course gave me was a crucial part of being hired.

    Sticking with the technical side of things, the grounding in statistics, the computational language R and writing a thesis essentially carried me through my PhD. These skills proved invaluable, I simply don't think I'd be working in research without them.

    The MSc was a springboard into working independently; it gave me the confidence that I was capable of conducting entomological research and provided a piece of paper to prove it.

    As I consider what my own research programme might look like, the impact of being surrounded by people investigating agriculture sticks with me - I remember being told that IPM is simply applied ecology.

    It makes me ask the question: How can the things I've learned be applied in a direct way that might make things better?

    Also, I can only assume that Simon Leather's beard had a lasting impact, it can't be a coincidence that I seem to have sprouted one too…


    Jon Finch- who began his course in 2013/14 academic year

    What was it like studying at Harper?

    Harper certainly was an experience! I can’t say I ever expected to live in rural Shropshire but I certainly don’t regret my decision to move and study there.

    I made lots of great friends and had many memorable experiences. I spent lots of time in spring riding my bike around the beautiful countryside, exploring the tiny villages that surround the area. It was idyllic.

    I also got to fulfill a childhood ambition of driving a tractor, pretty exciting for a boy from the suburbs.

    What is it like doing what you’re doing now?

    It’s been a little over eight years since I graduated from Harper.

    These days I’m a Lecturer in Entomology at the University of Tasmania. I love my job for three main reasons:

    • Every day, I get to talk about something I’m passionate about: Insects. I see myself as an insect advocate, enthusing the next generation of growers and agricultural scientists about the wonders of insects and their importance to agriculture.
    • I work in the vibrant and booming horticultural industry, where we conduct research on all kinds of crops from hemp to apples.
    • I live In Tasmania, one of the most pristine and wild places on the planet.

    How did the first prepare you for the second?

    Studying at Harper certainly opened lots of doors for me.

    It put me in touch with some great people and set me on a path to my current career. As an Entomology Lecturer, I draw heavily upon the knowledge I gained at Harper in my teaching and research roles.

    I’m having to relearn a lot of this broader knowledge in my new role, as I haven’t revisited it since my time at Harper – for instance, crop protection!

    Having my MSc really helps to pick it up again quickly when needed. I’m still getting lots of use from my time at Harper, almost 10 years after leaving.


    Jenna Shaw – who began her course in 2015/16 academic year

    What was it like studying at Harper?

    I really enjoyed studying my Masters at Harper. I had just completed an undergraduate degree at a large university in a city but I’m from Shropshire and love to be in the countryside. It was great to come home and study my ideal Masters course in my ideal location. The entomology department was, and still is, full of friendly and enthusiastic people and it was such a fun and interesting year!

    What is it like doing what you’re doing now?

    After my Masters I went off to work a handful of different jobs but spent the majority of my time at a conservation charity doing wildlife outreach, focusing on insects.

    The entomology MSc definitely opened up this opportunity for me and the MSc experience as a whole gave me the confidence to do it well.

    It was great fun but four years after finishing my masters I came back to Harper to carry out an entomology PhD, which is what I’m doing now. It was so nice to return to that same friendly and enthusiastic atmosphere that I remember in the Entomology department - but now I feel I have had more time to become part of the team.

    How did the first prepare you for the second?

    A Masters definitely helps prepare you for studying a PhD; in knowledge and skills but also in networking and making connections with people working in that field.

    Studying the MSc at Harper also opened up opportunities to do voluntary outreach, field studies and teaching.

    All the skills and confidence gained from that have been brought forward into this PhD.



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