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How I got here (Chapter One: School)

This is a blog post stolen in subject (although totally different in content) from Samm Sherman, a fellow new Stingray PhD student from James Cook University that I met whilst at a conference in August this year. If you want to follow Samm and her progress (and you should, she works with Wombats in her non-PhD time) head over to her page at

Anyway, back to me.

I get alot of people asking me how I got to where I'm at, what I studied, where I studied and what I did in the periods of time between studying that lead to this PhD. It's all in my CV, but here I can share my experiences and reasons for doing what I did in a hopefully more interesting way than just a few sentences on a page. I'm not going to go back too far, no-one wants to know about endless hours rock-pooling as a child! In this post I'll explain the choices I made that I think helped me to get this awesome opportunity.

I took as many science subjects at school as possible, and that included Maths!

This may sound like an obvious one, and it is, I took all three sciences at GCSE level and while I dropped Physics at AS and A level, I continued with Chemistry, Biology and Maths. Yes, Maths. For while maths in school may be one of the 'Boring' subjects, It turns out that it's really important in the sciences... who knew! With statistics being the backbone of scientific study it's really important to get a good grasp of the basics. It's also becoming increasingly difficult to get into a good quality university for undergraduate science study without A level maths, and you want to get in somewhere good!

I also took non-science subjects.

I took GCSE History, which taught me evidence searching and assimilation, a skill that I'm grateful for today with the literature review stage of my PhD in front of me. I took Spanish, not just in school but also in university, which although hasn't been useful to me yet, it could have been and could still be in the future. There's loads of Marine Research going on in the Spanish speaking areas of the world and if I end up there I'm prepared! The non-science subjects that I studied have helped me just as much in my science career to date as the science ones.

I did LOTS of extra-curricular activities.

This kind of thing apparently looks great on your university applications, but I didn't do them for that, I did them because I enjoyed them and made lots of friends with similar interests. I did 'robotics and engineering' club, I played flute and saxophone in school bands and community bands, I was part of school productions, I was a Scout (and then an Explorer Scout and then a Scout Network member and a Scout Leader), I swam for the local competitive swimming club and I had a weekend job making bacon sandwiches for the pilots at the local Airfield.

I didn't get amazing results at school.

I ended up with ABBC in my A-levels (the C was in maths... it wasn't my strong point) but what they don't tell you, is that as soon as you get into a good university, the grades you get at school stop being important!

I took a year off between school and starting university.

This was deliberate, but nearly wasn't. I had originally applied to study Natural Sciences at Durham. They wanted AAA and I was on track for it, but then I changed my mind. I visited Durham and looked more deeply into the course handbook and the courses and subjects I would be studying in my first year, and although it's a fantastic University and a gorgeous place it just didnt fit. The courses were very chemistry based, and geared towards molecular biology research and while that is great and all, I decided that I wanted to do actual BIOLOGY, not biochemistry. I had grown up reading Gerald Durrell and idolising David Attenborough and that was the kind of stuff I wanted to be learning about, animals, plants, fungi.

So I cancelled my application for that year, booked myself on a 'gap-year' project to Madagascar and got a job in a supermarket.

Which is where this chapter ends, partially because it's a good place to stop but also because I have way too much to do and am procrastinating!

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