Having just finished an undergraduate degree at Scotland’s Rural College amidst an escalating pandemic situation my thoughts turned to what I would do next. I was already interested in gaining a masters degree and after researching my options, the MSc in Environmental Science at the University of Aberdeen piqued my interest. My undergraduate degree was Environmental Management so I already had an understanding of the subject matter and was looking to further cement my knowledge and gain new insights. The reputation of the University of Aberdeen is exceptional and being from Aberdeen myself it seemed a no-brainer to apply. The long summer of lockdowns and covid-related uncertainties made the anticipation to start the MSc grow stronger and come September I was champing at the bit to get stuck into some new studies.
Highlights and Challenges
The year, unsurprisingly, started in a challenging fashion with the novel flexible approach to learning being completely new to myself and other students. Online classes, while still interesting and informative, lacked the comfort of in-person classes and were certainly difficult to get used to. Dodgy internet connections, noisy roads, pesky gardeners, DIY-happy neighbours, and rumbling washing machines, all made the virtual classes even more difficult and at times my concentration was tested to its limits. That being said, all credit must be handed to the lecturers and university staff who seamlessly handled the new situation with grace and made everyone feel welcome.
A highlight of the first semester was Sarah Woodin’s Plant Ecology module in which we managed to get outside and try our hand at identification of plants which was an excellent way to get started and a brilliant way to meet fellow students. Conversely, the Core Skills of Environmental Science module was a stats-heavy baptism of fire which was not for the faint-hearted. After a summer of lockdown life and restricted activity my brain received a good workout in semester one and I was back into academic mode.
The Christmas break was welcomed and it was great to see family and friends for the first time in what seemed like a very long year. I tried to keep my brain active by looking ahead at modules to come and where I could do some research. Upon our return in January we kicked off with Applications of GIS which was a fantastic module run by Louise Page and Phillip Smith with the help of a very competent contingent of student demonstrators. The use of GIS is very important in the environmental sector and as such I really enjoyed getting reacquainted with the processes involved.
Ecology, Conservation, and Society was another fantastic course and one I would highly recommend to anyone regardless of profession or interest. Discussion and conversation are one of the cornerstones of progress in any field (in my opinion) and should be used to progress learning for every student. I would like to thank Louise Ross and Michelle Pinnard for organising and running this course so brilliantly. I know that all the students enjoyed this format of learning and benefited a great deal from the knowledge of these two lecturers.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to head out on a field trip as part of the programme this year (did I mention covid yet?) but the online substitution - Land Use and the Changing Environment - was excellent. We were introduced to the Cairngorms National Park and a few locations within it which were excellent examples of how environmental science is important and what we as scientists can do to help improve the landscape and tackle a changing climate. The disappointment of not getting away on our trip was certainly quashed by Graeme Paton and Gareth Norton’s inspiring knowledge of the area.
The year ended on a high with our project’s getting underway and giving us a chance to flex our scientific muscles all on our own. I took on the challenge of performing a 4D analysis of air pollution by the roadside at Wellington Road under the supervision of Martin Barker. Given all the techniques and theories were new to me, I was happy with the outcome and hope my work can inspire some future studies in the same area. Air pollution is a hot-topic in the news as of late and these kinds of studies could be crucial for understanding how to mitigate and adapt to increased road pollution.
As you may have picked up, the highlights certainly outweigh the negatives with regards to this course and the only thing that would have made it better… getting to spend more time on campus. Alas, with this an impossibility for most of the courses it was something which we all got used to and made the most of our time. Luckily for myself, I made some great friends and was able to meet sporadically for coffees and beach walks to let the mind rest between assessment deadlines and highly anticipated results.
I am due to start a new job with the Scottish Government soon, where I will be working as a civil servant in the Rural Payments Inspections Division. I am very lucky to have got this job and all my hard work seems to have paid off. Hopefully, I will be able to impart some environmental knowledge on some unwilling farmers and try to get more ecological farming championed across Scotland. I have a close friend who is a very environmentally-conscious farmer and I know from my time at SRUC that environmental practices are at the forefront of agriculture, so I am excited to see what is being done and how I can help with the government's environmental targets.
One thing that I have learned this year, outwith university life, is to practice gratitude and I think this way of thinking has helped me massively with coming to terms with the way the world is at the moment. On that note, I would like to extend a huge deal of gratitude to the Robert Grant Memorial Trust for funding my MSc. This is a fantastic initiative for anyone who is born in Aberdeenshire or Morayshire looking to study for a postgraduate degree in the School of Biological Sciences. I would highly recommend applying as without this funding there was very little chance I would have been able to complete the course and for this I will be eternally grateful. Similarly, it would be rude of me not to thank everyone at the University of Aberdeen. Staff and students alike all deserve a round of applause, a pat on the back, and a glass of something cold and fizzy after this year!
Thank you and good luck!
Euan Connell, MSc Environmental Science