If I wrote that I were trying to simultaneously finish an essay, reply to messages and plan my summer, it would sound like a normal Tuesday. If I added that I’m also mentally running through my Catalan phrases (‘Ba beh?’ is equivalent to ‘y’alright?’) and enjoying the 20 degree heat, it really doesn’t.
I am currently on the Mallorca field course, an integral component of one of my modules, Organisms in their Environment. Although the sun is lovely and the beach is nearby, this is definitely not a holiday. Unlike most British tourists here, we are not partying in Magaluf but rather designing and running experiments, attempting statistics and fending off mosquitos. This 9-day trip has been jam-packed thus far with biology and has been very challenging, especially after two weeks of holidays. It will culminate in a presentation the week we get back, which is somewhat daunting as it counts for 35% of our module marks.
This year there were three field courses to choose from: Tanzania, Mallorca, and the North York Moors. They vary in how much they are funded, but for Mallorca we have our accommodation and flights paid for by university, so the only cost has been food.
For biology students interested at all in ecology, conservation or zoology, fieldwork is a critical (and, to use a Biology Department buzzword, ‘transferable’) skill. Some students prefer working in labs, but personally I love fieldwork. Despite the bug bites and variable weather, fieldwork can be rewarding as well as challenging, and there is nothing like trying to identify plant species in the rain to remind me what biology is all about.
After a few days of day trips to see the various ecosystems in Mallorca, the majority of our time here has been spent designing and running our group experiments. My group’s project is on bird behaviour, and is testing whether human disturbance affects their activity budgets, with both an observational and experimental component. In non-science terms, it means a 6:30am start, hours of bird watching, and shouting in a normally silent hide in the name of science. We are still collecting data and hopefully will find some interesting things to discuss.
In a few days we will fly home to a rainy York, ready for a fast turnaround to a new term and exams. Until then I plan to make the most of my days in Mallorca, enjoying both the sun and the biology!