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    Ten years of Entomology and IPM - Elin and Sam's stories

    30 November 2023

    Right across 2023, we have been sharing the stories of our alumni to mark more than a decade of Entomology and IPM courses at Harper Adams University.

    The blogs sprang from the incredible response of our past students to an appeal from one of the first entomologists to join Harper Adams when a suite of dedicated Masters courses launched in 2012 -  Reader in Entomology, Dr Tom Pope.

    As the decade anniversary approached, Tom asked a range of our alumni to see where they are now – and what their studies have led to.

    People responded from across the globe, with happy memories about their courses, the Harper Adams campus, and the University’s staff.

    Many cited the guidance of the late  Professor Emeritus – and leading entomologist -  Simon Leather.

    In the latest of our series of pieces, we catch up with Elin, now conducting mosquito research, and Sam, who is applying his skills to help farmers. Both studied in the 2019/20 academic year.




    Elin Cunningham

    What was it like studying at Harper?

    I loved my five  years at Harper, studying amongst a community of helpful students and staff alike, and felt welcomed by everyone.

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

    I currently work as an entomologist and research scientist in a fast-paced mosquito lab, rearing the largest unit of mosquitoes in the world and automating the manual processes involved in rearing.

    How did the first prepare you for the second?

    The insect knowledge from my Masters course (as well as extensive R skills!) is put to the test every day alongside my general science and experimental understanding from my undergraduate degree in Bioveterinary Science.


    Sam Telling

    What was it like studying at Harper?

    Like many of my peers prior to entering Harper Adams, entomology was something that was mostly self-taught, a knowledge and skill gained through the enjoyment of understanding the natural world. There are limitations to being self-taught - for me it was a reliance on old books, out of print identification keys and open access journals, combined with observations and collection of specimens to form a knowledge baseline.

    At Harper, although I realised my Latin pronunciation was mostly incorrect, an opportunity was provided to build upon this previous knowledge through access to a broad variety of taught modules.

    It was this variety of course content, from taxonomy to forensic entomology, that provided a detailed overview of the field of entomology and allowed students to develop specialisms or enhance ones they already had.

    For myself, although I had developed a specialism previously, I was able to and encouraged to gain a broad understanding of the whole field whilst improving my own specialism.

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

    I can’t say I expected to end up working in agriculture, but now that I am here I can see the joys of working in such a key industry.

    Being able to carry out innovative entomological research and then communicate this to a target audience, in my case farmers and scientists alike, provides a great sense of satisfaction. And there is no better appraisal than that from the end user.

    Whilst I may not be dealing with exotic insects, there is a lot of joy that can be attained from understanding the more inconspicuous insects that have a big impact, be it aphids as pests or wasps as natural enemies and this field allows me to use my knowledge, and develop new knowledge, to tackle some significant problems in arable crops.  

    How did the first prepare you for the second?

    As someone who now spends a lot of time working with aphids, I can’t say that I took much interest in them at Harper. They ‘weren’t that interesting’m I likely said to myself.

    But since then, through doing research, going back and reading lecture notes or the occasional browse of Simon’s blog I can see now see how he could be so enthusiastic about very characterful animals.

    It is this level of enthusiasm from staff and fellow students that stays with you and encourages yourself to be as engaged with your respective specialism.

    I think that is what makes the entomology community so friendly and easy to integrate into, especially those that have been taught by Simon before and after he moved to Harper.

    Finally, it can’t be understated either the role that Harper has had in developing contacts that I continue to collaborate and communicate with. Whether that is fellow students, people from the industry or members of the ento staff at Harper.

    Once you join the community, you are in it for life.

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