Zoology, international student at University of Leeds

Karolina Zarzyczny

Karolina is from Poland and has completed her integrated masters MBiol Zoology degree. During her time studying at the University of Leeds, she completed a year in an industry work placement at The Field Studies Council; an internship with the School of Earth and Environment; taken part in the South Africa field course and gained her BSAC Sports Diver qualification through the LUU Diving Society.

My Year in Industry: The Field Studies Council 

I worked for an environmental education charity called The Field Studies Council, they have centres all over the UK and the centre in which I worked in was the Margam Discovery Centre, located in Margam Park in South Wales. My role involved assisting the education team in ensuring that they can deliver quality fieldwork and outdoor activities to groups arriving at the centre. I wanted to do a placement because I strongly believed that a year in industry would help me gain skills that would make me not only more employable but also more confident and prepared for life after graduation.

I was responsible for organising science communication

Every morning started with collecting weather data from the Met Office Station located on the site. During office days, I would typically help prepare classrooms, kit and various resources for the arrival of new groups, and enter biological and weather data into the system. On those days I would often carry out grounds work such as work in the allotments or collect biological data on-site (e.g. identify moths caught in the moth trap overnight). When assisting teaching staff, I would often demonstrate various fieldwork techniques to students, lead small groups and deliver classroom sessions.

Some of my favourite experiences include leading British Ecological Society summer school session on the rocky shore of Bracelet Bay and delivering lessons about small mammals which would then lead onto small mammal trapping. I also assisted tutors during fieldwork lessons for GCSE and A-Level Biology and Geography students; led environmental games and activities with primary school and high school children. I was also responsible for organising science communication and outreach events. As the discovery centre is a residential centre, visiting groups often stayed with us for up to a week. On weekly basis, I would do an overnight shift as a duty staff member where I would be left in charge of the centre to ensure it is properly locked up overnight and I would deal with any emergencies which may occur.

It’s a great way to network and meet great people

A placement year is an amazing opportunity to gain experience, meet new people and network! During my placement, I have not only made friends which I am still in touch with, but I also met people who are amazing connections for the future. It was also incredibly nice to finish work at 5 pm as planned, and not have any major responsibilities after. When I’m in university, there’s no such thing as a day off or an evening off as I always have work hanging above me.

As I was liaising with visiting groups, I have made connections with various consultancy companies and organisations. I have been in touch with these people since and some of my opportunities since have involved potential part-time work a “behind the scenes” visit of the Natural History Museum.

My placement has helped me think about my future career

After my placement in Margam Park, I can see myself working in outdoor education. It’s nice having this experience and knowing that there are various career prospects after university, not just academia that I would enjoy. I’m now hoping to go onto studying for a PhD.

Practical learning in the field – Field Courses

I have loved doing a field trip every year, as these are incredibly hands-on and although they are intense I enjoy working under pressure and learning in the field. These have included studying on the rocky shore of Scarborough in my first year, a trip to Dale Fort in Pembrokshire & a trip to Malham Tarn in the second year. In my third year, I had the chance to go on the South Africa Fieldtrip which was probably one of the most memorable experiences of my life!

I went to South Africa for a third-year module. It was a 2-week field trip to Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape.

During the trip, I spent almost every day out on a game drive and had an opportunity to see wild lions, giraffes, zebra, elephants, hippos, and was even lucky enough to see a highly endangered black rhino. During the assessed projects I was observing vigilance behaviours of herbivores, learning to identify animal sings by their tracks, faeces, signs of grazing. I also looked at plant adaptations for overcoming high levels of herbivory. Throughout the trip I kept a bird diary were I identified and recorded South African birds on a daily basis. I also had a chance to handle some of the birds during mist-netting exercises.

During the trip, we received a series of lectures from the local researchers and experts in the field. This included the head of the anti-poaching team at Sham Wari and herpetologists. The trip was truly an incredible experience and for me the highlights were seeing and African elephant and a black rhino in the wild, at the same time, seeing breaching whales on the beach during one of our days off the reserve and meeting some incredible and knowledgeable people from South Africa that made this trip so memorable. 

My Internship: School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds 

Towards the second year of university, I was approached by one of my lecturers asking if I would like to do an internship with him after doing well in his assessed practical. The internship was funded by the Palaeontological Association and I spent 6 weeks carrying out a data-based project in the School of Earth and Environment, but I also had a chance to go out on fieldwork and collect fossils from Raven Scar. The project focuses on reconstructing marine food webs across and extinction occurred during the Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event.  It was a great experience that made me realise I want to pursue a career in research. 

Learning to Scuba Dive

Outside of studying, I joined the LUU Sub Aqua Society in my third year. With society, I have gone from a complete novice to gaining my BSAC Sports Diver qualification. The people in the society are incredible, and you really get a chance to make some great friends as you go away on training weekends and trips. So far, my highlight has definitely been going to Fuerteventura on a diving trip.

Careers and Employability support at Leeds

Make use of the careers support at the university. The FBS careers staff have helped me develop a great CV which without a doubt has helped me secure a placement. I know it’s incredibly stressful trying to apply for placements with all the deadlines and exams, which is why I would say apply only to the places where you know you would like to work. It also gives you more time to focus on one application and really do a good job of it.

Get involved in Student Life at Leeds

I looked at the university ranking tables and the University of Leeds ranked high. I picked a couple of universities, had a look at the modules and then visited the campuses. I fell in love with the campus and the course was exactly what I wanted so I chose the University of Leeds. At the open day, there was just something about it that made me think “this is it”, which I didn’t get for any other university that I visited.

I was a Zoology Rep in my first year; School of Biology rep in my second year; I participated in the mentoring scheme; I did a Palaeontological Association funded internship during one of the summers which has led onto further work that will be submitted for peer review; I was involved in setting up food waste recycling at some of the student accommodations; I’ve been a student ambassador; I have worked in the FBS office; and I have been involved in various scientific outreach events including the Yorkshire Fossil Festival and the Discovery Zone. There’s so much to get involved in and I’ve loved it!