Lowri Thomas profile

Lowri Thomas

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Studying Zoology at Leeds University 

I was sure I wanted to study a degree involving animals and biology. When I researched the Zoology degree that Leeds University offered, I was impressed by their module selection. The topics and field trips advertised piqued my interest, and I liked that in my first year, I would be mixed with all the other students in the School of Biology, so I could easily switch degrees at the end of the year if I wanted. 

When I visited Leeds on the open day and my offer holder day, I was impressed with the campus, the city, and how engaging the lecturers were. This solidified Leeds as my first choice university. At the end of my second year, I decided to transfer to the integrated Masters degree, as I had enjoyed my course so far and knew I wanted to advance even further with it and gain even more skills. 

Leeds: a great place to live 

University of Leeds has all of its facilities together on one welcoming campus, but the campus is also just up the road from the city centre. This gives you a great opportunity to explore the city. Leeds city is great for shopping, whether that's in big malls like Trinity or in independent, vintage shops. 

I also love to eat out in Leeds. Even in 5 years of living here, I am yet to try all of the great restaurants that are on offer. Leeds city neighbours some stunning Yorkshire countryside, and after a short trip, you are in a completely different landscape if you want to go for a peaceful walk on the weekend. 

Field trips and labs: education through practice 

As well as enjoying learning lots of interesting content from a wide range of topics, I have really enjoyed the field trips that my course has allowed me to go on. I have done fieldwork in terrestrial and marine environments, in the UK and abroad in South Africa (a personal favourite). This means I now have experience in designing and carrying out a range of research projects, which has really added value to my CV. 

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The lab facilities have also given me great practical skills that you can't get through just lectures. The range of equipment at Leeds means I have studied a large variety of topics in the labs from DNA & genetics, insect behaviour, plant anatomy, dissection, and more. Whether it's from reading in the library or developing my lab skills, I feel like I am leaving Leeds as a more well-rounded scientist. 

Support through tough times 

During a tough time, I reached out to my personal tutor who directed me to the Faculty's wellbeing service. The staff were very kind and understanding, and gave me advice on applying for mitigating circumstances/arrangements for the assignment and future exams, which helped me to reach my true potential at university. The service also regularly advertises events that they put on which aim to support students such as webinars on dealing with anxiety or perfectionism. I really appreciate that the faculty of biological sciences has their own specific, dedicated and trained wellbeing team to support students. 

Getting involved and making a difference 

I have occasionally joined in on some of the action days ran by Leeds University Union Conservation Volunteers Society. On these action days we go to a local green area in Leeds and help monitor and improve the natural habitat. Conservation is something I am passionate about and also relates to my degree and potential future career, so it is great that Leeds has a society around it. But there are so many societies at Leeds it is also a great chance to try something different, there is something for everyone. 

A social event I have also really enjoyed at Leeds is the Leeds summer ball. It was one of the most fun nights I have had in Leeds getting to dress up with my friends and party with all of Leeds' students who I may not otherwise mix with. It instilled a great sense of belonging being on campus celebrating with everyone. 

Preparing for the future 

My only plan is that I want to have a career that makes a positive impact to the environment and wildlife, and I feel my degree at Leeds has set up me to achieve that. 

I appreciate the faculty's support with easing onto an integrated masters degree as I feel this qualification will definitely help me when searching for a job. The faculty's employment team have been so useful in advertising job vacancies, offering 1-1 career advice, as well as providing tools to help check your CV, practise for interviews, psychometric tests and assessment centres which have really come in handy. I don't have a set plan yet for after I graduate but I would love to carry on with research, whether that's in the animal welfare or the ecology sector.  

The value of a placement year 

My main job role was being an animal keeper. After receiving training, I was able to carry out all of the daily animal care routines, as well as monitor the animal's behaviour and health, administer medication, and train the animal's to go through veterinary procedures. Occasionally, I would also interact with the public to answer any questions they had about the animals or the zoo. 

Whilst on placement, I spent a couple of months independently designing and completing a research project. I studied the behaviour of red river hogs with different environmental enrichment, to try and optimise their standards of welfare. I wrote up my results in a report which I shared with my manager, who then shared the results with other keepers to try and improve other keeper's knowledge on how to best care for red river hogs. This was a very rewarding project, it gave me experience in designing my own experiments, and carrying out a research project in a professional environment. 

The three skills my placement helped me improve are:  

Responsibility - Being in charge of feeding the animals, cleaning their enclosure, monitoring their behaviour, and administering their medication gave me a great chance to experience having real responsibility within a workplace. 

Creative problem-solving - Often when working with animals you can encounter problems whether that be with their health or behaviour, or trying to think of how to do a task more efficiently. So, on placement I was really challenged to come up with creative problems to these solutions, which you don't always get to practice just in lectures. 

Organisation - There were often very busy days at the zoo, with lots of tasks to complete that were essential to the animals' care. This required being organised to make sure all of the appropriate tasks were carried out on time. Additionally, daily reports of your observations had to be completed which also required a high level of organisation. 

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My year in industry has given me a large range of transferable skills that all employers look for. Specifically, doing research or working with animals can be competitive and employers often require applicants to have previous experience, and my placement has allowed me to get a year of experience on my CV. 

I would definitely recommend doing a placement year. I have no regrets about my placement year and I'm so happy I made the choice to do one as I really enjoyed my year and feel I now always have something to talk about on my CV or in interviews. My advice to students would be to start looking early at what sort of field you may want to go into for your placement year, as picking one which you think you'll definitely enjoy, or that will actually be relevant to a future career you may want to have will be the most valuable.