Last year I did honours in conservation biology at the University of Adelaide.  Before I started, I didn’t really know anyone who had done honours, or much about how it worked.  I deliberated for a bit about whether or not I wanted to apply.

In the end, a year of research sounded more appealing than job hunting and potential unemployment – so honours it was.  If you’re considering doing honours or wondering why on earth I’d voluntarily add another year to my degree, here’s 10 reasons why I’m glad I made that decision.

10. Computer Skills

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not so flash with technology. I am really proud of how far I’ve come in this regard. Teaching myself programs such as ArcGIS, Geneious and even simple coding in Excel has really expanded my skill set. During honours I also completed an Infographic course, which allowed me to create pretty impressive figures for my thesis (If I do say so myself!)

9. Public Speaking

Although I’m not particularly nervous about speaking in front of people, I hadn’t done much public speaking since high school. The structure of the honours program meant that I got plenty of practice in, and I think I’ve become a much more confident speaker as a result.  So much so that I was runner up for the student prize award for a talk I gave at the Society of Australian Systematic Biologists conference last year!

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Mid hand gesture but you get the idea

8. Co-workers

Throughout my studies I’ve supported myself with my own private tutoring business, so although I’ve met a great bunch of students and families, I’ve never had co-workers before. There’s something really nice about spending the year with a bunch of like minded people working on similar things to you.

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Our lab group – check them out on twitter here!

7. Mentors

Honours was a great chance to form close working relationships with academics. Getting to know my two supervisors, as well as other academics in our lab, was fantastic.

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Post thesis defending celebrations

6. Challenges

This might sound like a weird one, but I’m happy that the year provided some challenging times. Balancing full time study with my own business, volunteering and a handful of casual jobs was no mean feat. When I look back, I’m pretty proud of the way I managed to keep up with all my commitments and stay motivated and organised.

5. Lab Work

I majored in Zoology and Ecology for my undergraduate degree, which meant that although I got to go on some pretty cool field trips, my lab work experience was pretty limited. Honours allowed me to run my own DNA extractions and PCR reactions, skills that will serve me well if I chose to do a PhD with a lab work component.

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Looking at critters in a real lab (left) and our mobile lab while travelling (right)

4. Respect

A rather unfortunate part of being a female scientist is that some people will not like you based purely on the fact you’re not a man. Despite achieving top grades in undergrad, there were a few particularly nasty professors who consistently made me feel stupid and worthless.  The lab group I did honours with was really different from some I’ve experienced in the past – people who treat you like an equal and value your opinions and views make a big difference.

3. Travel

I was lucky enough to receive a research scholarship for my honours project that allowed me to travel to Bungaroo Creek in Western Australia for my field work.  Field work is what I love the most, so getting to plan, design and implement sampling like a real life scientist was definitely a highlight.  The big wigs in my research topic all live in Western Australia, so it was also great getting to meet all the authors of the papers I’m constantly referencing!

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Fishing for stygofauna in mining boreholes

2. Opportunity

For just a year of extra work, honours has and will continue to provide me with fantastic opportunities.  Unlike undergrad, where unfortunately most work is purely academic or theoretical, honours has essentially given me a year of real life experience, something that is valued highly by prospective employers.

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With my friend Bryony from Call the Pigwif (check it out for plenty of cute piglet pics!)

 

 

1. Discovery

And last but not least – discovery. Doing your own research means you’re bound to find things out. During my project, I was lucky enough to reveal around 22 brand new species in the family I was studying. To be the first to capture these animals, sample them, sequence their DNA and officially discover them is something I find pretty damn special.

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The day I handed up my thesis – big smiles.