My Journey Back Into Science

Bryony Blades
DPhil Student, Department of Biology

I’ve always known that I find it hard to commit time to something if I don’t actively care about it, or it doesn’t pique my interest. That’s why, when I graduated from my languages undergraduate degree, I couldn’t make myself consider jobs in the areas that all my friends were applying to. I decided to take some time out, and spent a couple of months living on a game reserve in South Africa. The experiences I had during this time could fill an entire book, but being charged by a rhino and listening to lions at dawn are amongst the most unforgettable. Living there, I realised that my lifelong, albeit informal, interest in wildlife and ecology was the only thing I felt strongly enough about to commit to in the long-term. Back home, though, I struggled to even get a look-in for any ecology jobs with my degree, so I decided to go back to university and study a Master’s in Applied Ecology. It was a nigh on vertical learning curve; I hadn’t studied anything vaguely related since my GCSEs many years before, and “Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell” didn’t help much. Thankfully, with some deeply supportive supervisors, and an environment in which I was surrounded by peers who shared my interests, and from whom I could learn, I thrived. It was during this time that I really got a taste for research and knew, at some point, that I wanted to pursue a PhD. Meanwhile, I graduated and, honestly, I struggled to get that first job. However, during this time I connected with many people and fostered a network of professionals in industry and academia, and it was through one-such connection that I eventually got a position as an Assistant Ecologist. It was amazing to finally be working in an area that I had spent so much time and energy working to break into, and spending every day immersed in ecology. That said, I couldn’t shake the research bug, so I applied for two PhD positions, and was lucky enough to be offered one. Now, I spend my days researching the spatial distributions of dung beetles across Africa, learning about biogeography, and trying to get my quantitative brain back up to scratch! Essentially, I am fortunate enough to dedicate all my time to the pursuit of new knowledge in both the thematic and geographical area that I care about the most.  The take home message? It is never too late to discover your purpose. 

Written in 2022