Emma joins the lab

Emma Bleakley has recently joined the lab as a distance PhD student. Her project is “Social Networks Across the Tree of Life”, and will involve the analysis of social data across a range of taxa. In this post Emma gives a little insight into the path she followed before joining EEL.

As the newest member of the EEL I thought I would take this opportunity to tell you a little more about myself and my journey to my PhD. As a mature student my path is one less travelled.

I started as a veterinary nurse in the small Peak District town of Buxton in Derbyshire. This fuelled my passion for animals and I relished the enormous learning curve I experienced. A few years and moves later, I went on to work as a secretary in an ecological consultancy. I was surrounded by and worked with some incredible ecologists which opened my eyes to a whole new world and I was fascinated. When they found out I had been a veterinary nurse I was encouraged to become a volunteer bat carer with the Bat Conservation Trust and hand reared mainly orphaned pipistrelle bats. This was a truly amazing experience made magical by seeing them take their first flights.

The biggest influence on my journey was in the form of my next job. I became the secretary/research assistant to a mycorrhizal scientist, known as the Truffle Guy. He was a scientist with a PhD in plant communication and proved an inspiration. He took time and effort to teach me all about mycorrhizal science and encouraged me to pursue my own dream of studying at university to further my passion for animals and behaviour.

Having little to no qualifications I signed on to do an Access to HE Science course. This course changed my life and after that I knew that going to university was the path for me. A year later I walked into Manchester Metropolitan University to start a BSc in Animal Behaviour. Going to university in your forties is certainly daunting but what I found was a wonderful group of students and lecturers who welcomed me with open arms. After three fantastic years my time was over, but I didn’t want it to end. For me, my mind was set. I wanted to go as far as I could.

My next step was to make a move to the University of Salford and do an MSc in Wildlife Conservation. Here, not only did I meet more incredible students and lecturers, I also solidified my desire to go on and do a PhD. I finished in 2019 and then COVID hit! I was at a standstill. There was a potential PhD project that led on from my master’s, but it wasn’t the track that I wanted to take, so throughout 2020 I searched for a PhD that inspired me. After a year, and at the point of giving up, a PhD advertised on FindaPhD caught my attention; “Social Networks Across the Tree of Life”. I was intrigued and wanted to know more. After talking to David and the other co-supervisors, I applied, and was delighted to be accepted. So here I am, embarking on the biggest challenge of my life. After over a year out of the system it’s a scary leap, but I’m eager to work on a fascinating and exciting project and to continue to pursue my dream.

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