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Sophie Cousens

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Researching on the shoreline

Sophie Cousens, MRes Marine Biology, University of Plymouth

sophie cousens

Thinking about my degree and my experience at university, it has been about just going and getting on with it – trying things out, doing and learning at the same time.

Thinking about my degree and my experience at university, it has been about just going and getting on with it – trying things out, doing and learning at the same time.

I wanted to be a Marine Biologist from very early on.  We used to go to Florida when I was young and we often went to Sea World.  I decided that I wanted to be a dolphin keeper and our friends that lived out there said, “well they’ve all got Marine Biology Degrees you know!”  Now I am older I have become more realistic about what I want to do, but I have still stuck with Marine Biology.

The University of Plymouth is home to the largest Marine Institute in Europe – with £25m recently invested in a new world-class marine facility

At school they were set on me doing a straight biology degree and they just didn’t understand that Plymouth was the best place to do what I wanted.  I had to find that out for myself.  When we went down for the initial open day they told us about all the different places they had partnerships with – and nowhere else could have said that.  It is so marine-based down there; there is the Plymouth Marine Science Partnership which involves so many different scientific institutions.  My Masters is run jointly with the Marine Biological Association and even as an undergraduate you can become a member there and have use of the library.  When I choose Plymouth I realised that I wanted the whole lifestyle.  I wanted to live the life of a Marine Biologist and be surrounded by it!

My undergraduate degree took three years and it was very hands on, so coursework would often be about data collection on the shore rather than writing an essay.  One of my favourite moments was when we were on field course in Portugal.  Someone was paddling in the sea when this huge jellyfish came in.  One of the lecturers jumped in.  He was pointing out everything about it and relating it back to our lectures.  For him it is about any opportunity to teach us something.  He is like one of those teachers at school that you will never forget because he is so passionate about what he does.

It is not just about writing textbooks, they actually tell us how research progresses and how we can get involved with it.

We have lecturers who are active in interesting and important fields like climate change.  They are very active in doing research and you get a good feel for how the academic community works.  It is not just about writing textbooks, they actually tell us how research progresses and how we can get involved with it.  At postgraduate level we work even more closely with the academics and scientists based at the marine laboratory.  They treat us like we are part of the team rather than students.

I am interested in eco-toxicology, so my MRes project will hopefully be on the level of toxicity from a chemical they use to clean up oil spillages.  The chemical itself is toxic and could be doing more harm than good.  I want to do something for my project that is really useful and practical. My dad is excited because he thinks I can go and work for an oil company!