Take opportunities when they present themselves

A placement is simply an experience, and with each experience, you learn more about yourself

I heard about the placement scheme at UQ and knew straight away I wanted to take part. If my life experiences have taught me anything, its that the more opportunities you take, the more opportunities you are given in the future. However, I didn’t want to just do a placement because I could, I wanted to do something that I felt was beneficial to me.

There are many ways in which to utilise a placement, and I wasn’t sure which avenue to go down. Should I do something that helps me learn a new skill? Should I do something that is more likely to lead to an enjoyable job afterwards? Should I do a placement where I am networking? Or should I do something that would look good on my CV for academic jobs? And this led me to talk to a career advisor at UQ to help me narrow down the possible people to contact for a placement. From this she helped me create a list of the top five organisations where I admire their work. The first on this list was SANBI- the South African Biodiversity Institute.

I am currently doing my PhD in evolutionary biology using a quantitative genetics approach, and I am incredibly passionate about this field. However, I wanted to step out of the lab work environment for my six-week placement. My earlier research involved using lizards as a study system to understand evolutionary concepts. From this I conducted fieldwork-based research on anole lizards in the US and The Bahamas, and on a leaf plated dwarf chameleon in Madagascar. Whilst writing literature reviews for these papers I came across a researcher, Krystal Tolley, that had done a lot of work on African reptiles. I read quite a few of her papers and found her work really interesting. Krystal worked at SANBI and the careers advisor helped me formulate an email asking if she was interested in the placement scheme.

I received a reply soon after and much to my surprise, she and her collaborator, Graham Alexander, had some data on lizard activity in the Karoo and Kalahari deserts, and based on my previous experience, they were happy for me to analyse this data for my 6-week placement. Working with Krystal and Graham was a great experience. They worked so well as a team, and I felt part of this team working with them. Not only did the placement enable me to work with researchers I had wanted to work with for a while, but Krystal, Graham, and myself are now collaborating on a paper together, which I am sure will open up more avenues for future careers.