Almost four years and 49 weeks ago (but for the sake of simplicity let’s call it five years) I landed at Heathrow Airport ahead of my first year at the University of Southampton. I could never have predicted what those years would have been like and I am very glad I went into it with an open-mind and no preconceptions.
I had nothing to compare to, my friends all went off to universities in the United States, and all I knew was that completing my degree here in the UK would bare no resemblance to a four-year course in the States. Pleased with my decision, I dove straight into what I wanted to be studying: oceanography. My first year was filled with lectures about waves, currents, and tides; rocks, tectonic plates, and erosion; and microbes, nutrients, and food chains. I loved being out on the research boat, looking down microscopes in the lab, and learning to code through several stressful computer sessions. But I knew I would enjoy the subject. I’d been set on it for the last several years and came out of high school having done twice as many science classes as I was ‘supposed’ to.
The unknowns, meeting new people, finding hobbies and living alone were the slightly nerve-wracking, but most exhilarating part. I’m a ‘quiet until you get to know me’ kinda girl which makes it a little difficult to make friends instantly, but I found my people at my own pace and I couldn’t have asked for a more fun and supportive group of friends.
My graduation may have been nine months after I exhaustedly handed my masters dissertation in, but it was a great way to close out a busy, stressful, and amazing four and half years of university. It has also pushed me to reflect on my education and where I’d like to go in the future.
I love to learn, and I have been incredibly lucky to have been in such nurturing educational systems from a young age, all the way to university. I am very thankful to all the teachers I’ve had and family who have supported my learning. My time at Southampton had its ups and downs. There are definitely things I would do differently if I went back in time – 3,000 word papers don’t write themselves the day before the deadline. But, I’m glad I had the good and the bad. It meant I learnt more than just how to map the seafloor, or dissect an amphipod. I discovered I work best in the evening, that I’m not great at exams, but that’s ok, and that I will fall asleep in a cold lecture theatre at about 4pm.
A misconception I think I had about going to university was that it would help me work out what to do with the rest of my life. It both helped and hindered. It opened numerous doors which felt overwhelming at times, especially since I am not the most naturally decisive person, and am intrigued by most things. But, that same phenomenon also highlighted to me that I’ll probably enjoy doing most things related to marine sustainability, therefore there isn’t a pressing need to choose just one.
One of the most enjoyable jobs I did while studying was that of student assistant. It was a varied role and included giving tours of marine science facilities, and helping run practicals for school children. I found I was using skills developed through swim coaching and drama club. That realisation, that I wasn’t limited to skills I learnt through marine science, opened up new opportunities which I had otherwise ignored. I now know that regardless of the marine sustainability issue I narrow in on, I will be making science communication and educational outreach a key component of my career.
I find new ways to use my knowledge and abilities everyday, and in increasingly unlikely scenarios. I’m on the hunt for new activities constantly to keep learning, using my creativity, and enjoying life. I’m sure a PhD is in my future, along with many, hopefully fulfilling, roles with which I form my career and legacy as a scientist and communicator.
This blog, and this post especially, definitely fall under ‘new activities’ and have pushed me out of my comfort zone. Being open about my feelings is not something that comes naturally to me. But, I’m always willing to take on a challenge and if I learnt anything from the last five years, it’s that even the good things come with challenges.