Summer placements- my experience, skills gained and why I think you should do one

This summer, I completed a summer placement in South Africa with an organisation called Operation Wallacea. They are a volunteer funded organisation that relies on public contributions to conduct their research and have projects all over the world. They conduct ground-breaking conservation research globally which can result in publications and novel discoveries, so I was really keen to get involved. South Africa has always been a dream of mine to visit, so the decision to complete a summer placement there was very easy. I chose to complete a 4-week placement there as a Research Assistant, where 3 weeks would be at a terrestrial site- Dinokeng Game Reserve, and the last week would be at a marine site- Sodwana Bay. I had such an amazing month and gained so many skills:

Teamwork- many of the tasks we completed required us to work as a team, to identify the different species of the animals. These teamwork skills are so relevant for the working world, as well as just with group tasks and assignment at university.

Social confidence- this placement was also an amazing experience as I met so many people from all over the world- from Canada to Korea! I learnt so much about everybody’s cultures- from silly expressions people have, to the fact that Americans don’t have Weetabix! Interacting with so many new people from such different places was a great experience.

Time keeping- most days we had to wake up between 6am and 6:30am, collect all of our research equipment and head out into the field, so it was essential that we were on time. Improving your time keeping skills is always relevant for future interviews and jobs, so it was great to apply this to a real-world research setting.

Organisation- for each piece of research we conducted, we had to remember to bring the relevant tools to complete it e.g. textbooks, clipboards and pens.  This responsibility really increased my organisation and leadership skills. Often in job descriptions, high organisation skills are hugely desired, so this was really good practise and good evidence to show how organised I am.

IT skills- on this placement I continued to develop my computer skills on excel and used new software such as Wildlog to process camera trap images. It was a great way to improve my technology skills, which is really important, especially as many companies make full use of social media and other technologies to promote their work.

Field research experience- I learned invaluable hands on research skills, which I can definitely put into practice in the future. Even if I do not want to go into research in my future, it is still amazing experience to say that I have done it myself in a field environment.

Overall, I am so glad that I completed my placement with Operation Wallacea. Not only did I gain so much experience working in the field, I also had the best month of my life, travelled the world and made some amazing friends for life. This placement also helped me decide what I want to do with my degree in the future. As much as I thoroughly enjoyed all of the aspects of the research that we did, this placement really made me think more about, in the future, maybe taking a different path to research. After learning about how important community engagement is in the field, I have decided that I would like to go into conservation education/outreach in the future.

I would encourage any student from any degree course to complete a summer placement. The experiences and skills that you gain are incredible and they give you a taste of what life could be like after graduation which is really inspiring.

Written by Jodie Velarde-Phillips

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