May 26, 2016, by Postgraduate Placements Nottingham

Exploring Citizen Science with the National Biodiversity Network (Part 3)

In the final post of a three-part series, Ben Brown describes some of the insights he gained from his placement.

ben brown2For my placement we negotiated a bespoke project from scratch (as the NBN do not run a formal internship programme) the scope of which proved far too ambitious for the three-month timescale. One thing I learnt from this was that too much data is not always a ‘good problem to have’. The data I collected has yet to be properly interrogated and my final report – far more descriptive and incomplete than I had initially intended – will serve as signposting for this rather than comprehensive interpretation. Consequently I’ve learned the importance of pragmatic realism and proper consideration of ‘Plan B’s for foreseeable issues.

Despite these factors, I feel pleased that I was able to change emphasis and re-calibrate expectations to the time remaining, once the issue became apparent. I doubt this was the last time I’ll have to do that, so the experience was worth gaining. I also learnt that there are no shortcuts when it comes to complex data, and when estimating time for a new task it’s important not to discount the consensus because you find it implausible!

‘designing and executing a fixed-length project […] made a welcome change from the gradual progress and uncertain goals of my PhD.’

Scoping issues notwithstanding, I enjoyed designing and executing a fixed-length project that I was responsible for. Though commonplace in my past-life as a software developer, it made a welcome change from the gradual progress and uncertain goals of my PhD. The internship reminded me of how much I appreciate being given solid tasks with the freedom to complete them. This will be an important factor in my decision to pursue an academic career or return to industry.

Sadly the NBN’s CEO died suddenly two weeks into my internship (and three weeks before their national conference) which was both a tragedy and a crisis for the organisation and biological recording.  The NBN taught me a lot about professionalism and sensitivity during these times. I’ve yet to manage such acute upheaval in my own work, but if I do I’ll have a good template from the NBN secretariat regarding how to approach it. I learned that the role of a newcomer or low-skill person in a crisis is to contribute wherever possible while minimising one’s burden.

This post is the second of a three-part series by Ben Brown who is studying for a PhD through the Doctoral Training Partnerships Programme. He has recently completed a three-month Professional Internship for PhD Students (PIP) at the National Biodiversity Network; a collaborative partnership created to exchange biodiversity information and involves many UK wildlife conservation organisations, government, country agencies, environmental agencies, local environmental records centres and many voluntary groups.

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