Seb Stroud, Postgraduate student, MSc Biodiversity and Conversation

Sebastian Stroud

A range of practical skills 

The University of Leeds offered a really excellent selection of modules in subject areas I was keen to develop. Most undergraduate programs do not offer practical skills insect or plants ID and when searching for a masters course I knew these were key areas I wanted to focus on. The University of Leeds offered both and I learned more about the course content, I was interested particularly in the balance of core academic modules such as GIS skills for ecologists and programming in R against field-based modules such as habitat management.

Supported me in my future career as an academic

Before my course, I was unsure of what career I wanted to pursue. I didn’t feel I was ready to apply for PhDs directly but also I didn’t want to go into environmental consultancy which would have been a natural choice with a degree in ecology. Whilst here at the University of Leeds, the course leaders were really supportive of students considering a career in research and encouraged and organised us to attend talks and seminars with current PhD students. This gave me a really good understanding of what life is like at various stages of a PhD, now I am doing my PhD in Urban Ecology.

Learning from leading experts

There was a really good sense of community on the course because you’re thrown into fieldwork and residential trips in the first few weeks of the program your gel and make friends really quickly. Because of that, we were a really close-knit and social group, which definitely helped later on when the existential dread of the final projects sets in.

We also had some really excellent experiences with experts in their respective field. From talks about global food security and the challenges which future generations will face under different climate scenarios from the champion UK's Global Food Security Programme Professor Steve Benton, to coping the practical challenges of managing a National Trust nature research at Malham Tarn.

It was reassuring to know that the academics and university had these strong links to these external organisations and that our degrees could eventually lead us on a career trajectory similar to theses industry leaders.

My research project: Invasive mussel species

My research project utilised the newly emerging monitoring technology commonly known as environmental DNA. Essential it makes use of DNA which organisms have shed into the environment via mucus, skin cells, or gametes, we can sequent this DNA and either use it to a) create a complete catalogue of the community from this sloughed DNA or B) quantify the volume of DNA in a given volume of water. In collaboration with Yorkshire Water and NatureMetrics we aimed to identify the most suitable methods of sampling and subsequent risk of Invasive species transfer of water between large water assets.

Whilst our data didn’t quite answer this question (believe it or not trying to understand how DNA a couple of microns long behaves in a reservoir the size of ten Olympic swimming pools is quite difficult) we did gain some real insight to how substrate and environmental conditions influence the detection of environmental DNA and how statutory bodies should samples these sites to increase detection rates.

Learnt new skills through challenges

Academic research is intense, frustrating, and sometimes slow, but it is also highly stimulating and rewarding when everything comes together. The actual process of conducting research brings new various opportunities and challenges, for me that working with Yorkshire Water and developing a research methodology from conception to finish.

Organising constantly evolving project governs and influences many aspects of your research process from formulation of initial ideas, data collection, analysis and completion. It was really exciting to see a project develop in front of you, from your initial identification of research gaps to the moment you finally get your first statistical test to work.