A photo of Jack Carney, a Biodiversity and Conservation MSc student at the University of Leeds, sat outside with a book and a leaf.

Jack Carney

Why did you choose to come to Leeds University to study the above course?

Following a two-year break from University (in 2015, I graduated from the University of Manchester with a BSc in Zoology), I decided to take the dive and apply for Masters programmes. My interest in conservation had directed me to a handful of Biodiversity and Conservation-type courseS on offer, which spanned from Exeter all the way up to here in Leeds.

After visiting Leeds on an open day, I heard a lot of great things about the course and I was hooked straight away. There was such a good balance between theoretical and practical components in conservation, the latter of which I was mostly lacking from my previous experience. The experience and expertise of the staff was obvious and the prospects for students graduating from this course were really exciting!

The last thing I needed was confirmation of the course's excellence from a previous student. Fortunately, I knew that one of my friends had done this MSc a couple of years ago and asked her for an alumnus' opinion on the course. She could only give fantastic reviews and this cemented my interest in the course.

What did you enjoy about your course?

As previously mentioned, what really helps this course stand out is the mix of theoretical, analytical and practical modules; any prospective students lacking in any of these areas will be relieved by the opportunities to catch up and excel. I decided to do a mix of each of these types of module but wanted to get some more practical experience. As a result, I had the opportunity to visit many valuable natural parks and reserves around Yorkshire and learn about the work that goes on there while helping myself.

There is a lot of freedom on this course; none of the modules are mutually exclusive. This means that you do not need to worry about opting between two modules that are on the same time! The summer project also gives a lot of freedom to each student. It is possible to arrange your own project before you come or during the first term, but there are also lots of different project choices available from researchers within the faculty!

The main thing I enjoyed about the course is that it is a step up from undergraduate courses. I do not mean just the level of education you receive but the support and advice you receive from academics; I felt like I was treated much more personally and with a level of respect that matched the level of education I had reached. Everyone seemed to acknowledge that many of us had given up a lot of time and money for this extra qualification.

The fact that there aren't any exams meant that Christmas was much more enjoyable than at undergraduate level!

What have been the highlights of the course?

The top highlight of my time at the University of Leeds was definitely the Mediterranean Ecology field course I attended over Easter 2018. This trip was a mix of 2nd year undergrads and postgrads, along with academics, and it was a perfect balance. I was in a group which studied the extent of UV signalling in crab spiders that predated on pollinating insects. It was an excellent location for this: a secluded field centre in Spain. I definitely did not want to return to rainy England after only 10 days!

Another highlight was a five-day residential field trip to the Yorkshire Dales with the National Trust. Those five days following Park Rangers was a dream and gave us all a fantastic taste of an important role within UK Conservation. A small group of us returned later in the year to stay in the house again for a weekend and do some more volunteering!

The first week of the course finished with another weekend stay in the Dales and it was this trip which allowed us all to get properly acquainted with our course mates! Something like this was the perfect way to break the ice between the students!

What was your greatest challenge throughout your course?

The biggest challenge for me was the sheer workload that I had at various points in the year. It was at these times when I really felt the weight of the Masters and what I had gotten myself into! It really tested my motivation for the course and my career, but this was a good thing; the work gave me something to focus on and made me feel like I was worth the degree!

It also helped me become better at managing my time, in particular, setting out times for work and times for having a rest. This is something that I hope will stay with me throughout my career.

What is your research project on and what has it involved?

My summer project is based in Dorset and is attempting to quantify the effects of invasive, non-native Wall Lizards on native reptile species, in particular competition with native lizards. I'll be working with Robert Williams, a PhD student at Leeds, under the supervision of Dr Chris Hassall.

How do you think doing a research project will benefit you in the future?

Having a project that is my own is important to me. The guidance and advice from my supervisors is extremely helpful, but once I start working, it will be exciting to be leading my own field project, particularly one that has ramifications for conservation and invasive species. These issues are becoming more and more prevalent and having a strong project in these fields will be very helpful for me when finding jobs in the future.

I hope to carry on working in reptile conservation and building upon the experience I'll have from Leeds.

How would you rate the facilities available to you throughout your final year project?

Working in the field means I am not likely to use as many of the great facilities Leeds has to offer as I could, but I know that if I ever need anything extra to help my project, there will be something at the university. In other projects during my time at Leeds, the equipment and support has been extremely useful.

About the University

Why did you choose the University of Leeds?

I know a good amount of people who had come here either for undergrad or postgrad; they had all given positive reviews, and some had ended up staying for jobs afterwards!

The city itself is very similar to Manchester (where I previously studied) which is one thing that initially attracted me, but the University itself was really influential in helping decide to come here. I was keen to return to another Russell Group University because of the research impacts they have and the level of respect their degrees attract.

After having been named University of the Year 2017, I knew it must be something special and I was not let down upon arriving. It has a great mix of new and old buildings and the scientific facilities are fantastic.

They always gain a high score for student satisfaction which is something that means a lot to me when choosing universities.

What have been the highlights of your time at the University of Leeds?

One of the best things I have received from the University of Leeds is the extensive network of friends and contacts I have built up over the past year. I hope to stay in contact with as many of them as possible, particularly to collaborate with in the future. There are a lot of social events going on at the university and I had the pleasure of participating in some of them. One highlight was a Christmas meal hosted by the Faculty of Biological Sciences Global Community; this was a delightful evening of free music, food and even a quiz! It was a really enjoyable night and really showed that the university was going out of its way to make our time here memorable.

As a course rep, I had the enjoyable task of organising a Christmas party for my course mates at the end of the autumn term. We hired out a section of Old Bar in the Students' Union and invited the whole course for drinks, mince pies and festivities. It was nice to see a handful of the lecturers turn up and have a relaxing evening with the students.

How have the facilities helped you get the most out of your degree?

I didn't realise how much time I would spend in the library during this degree! But the study spaces have certainly been helpful to my work; the amount of free computers (if you get there early enough) was always surprising and the support from technical staff was never lacklustre.

I did not spend much time in labs this year but the facilities there were as good as any I've seen in the UK. For my trip to Spain, the equipment I needed was always available and the staff were always on hand to provide assistance.

Have you joined any student societies or sports clubs?

I have tried some new sports this year and been to some societal events throughout my time. It has been strange being older than most of the other (undergrad) students at Leeds but I never felt segregated at any point. I felt this the most when I went to taster days for societies and sports clubs. I wish I had spent more time joining in with different sports but I felt the benefits of these anyway.

What key aspects of your experience of Leeds would you highlight to students thinking about coming to do the same course?

I would definitely recommend getting involved with all of the field trips they have to offer on the course; you get to travel to different sites in Yorkshire, see beautiful natural sites and learn valuable information on UK conservation (and to some degree, conservation abroad).

I would also recommend getting involved in social events related to the course and those that are unrelated too. There are so many societies and sports clubs, and you will definitely find something new that you will love!

What are your ambitions for the future?

I am hoping to gain some more experience in the field abroad, particularly in tortoise and turtle conservation which is where my main interests lie! I hope I can do some more volunteering and eventually carve out a paid career for myself!

The University has been very supportive and has been willing to give advice on whichever career a student has. Some tutors/supervisors have been extra helpful and have recommended contacts and projects based on their own experience.