Amandine from the USA
What did you do before coming to Lund to study?
“I did my Bachelor’s in Applied Animal Biology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. I focused my upper years on animal ecology and animal welfare, so that guided me into my Master’s programme.”
How did you hear about Lund?
“I was originally looking for any programme in Europe to take advantage of the fact that I have European citizenship, since the cost of going to school in North America is so expensive right now. Lund was one of the first programmes that came up and it had one of the earliest application dates. I applied here as well as at Uppsala just to cover my bases on the Swedish universities. I really liked the emphasis on environmental sciences and nature that seems to be prevalent in Scandinavia.”
What do you think of the programme so far? Does it live up to your expectations?
“I didn’t really know what to expect going into it; I just had all these impressions from online. The way it’s structured is very different from what I’m used to. It’s just one course at a time in the Animal Ecology programme, while I was taking five courses at a time and doing extracurriculars for my undergrad. You do have class pretty much every day and you are immersed in that course. Otherwise it’s very flexible and everyone is very accessible. If you want to do something you just ask, and usually they will let you or try to work it out. I really like the flexibility and accessibility so far. It’s worked out quite nicely.”
What has been your favourite course so far?
“The way the courses are structured you tend to cover a wide range of topics within a certain area, so some will be more interesting and others not as much, but I’ve liked all of them so far. I’d particularly recommend the Evolutionary Animal Ecology course – it exposed me to a lot of new concepts and interesting examples in ecology and evolution, which indirectly guided me to my thesis topic.”
What do you think is the best thing about your programme?
“The flexibility and accessibility. The way the courses are you have so many professors that come in; it’s not the same person teaching all the time. This way, you get a lot of different perspectives and people who have done all sorts of research. They use a lot of real-world examples from their own research, so you also get to learn about things that you haven’t thought of and see practical applications of the concepts you’re learning. You also have the opportunity to follow up with those professors and maybe pursue opportunities with them and within the field. So, you’re exposed to a lot of things and you get the opportunity to take advantage of them, which is very nice!”
What do you think of the teaching style and way of studying here?
“It’s very different from what I’m used to, very laid back, less formal and more personal. The class sizes are a lot smaller; I usually have around 20–35 people in my classes. The professors know you on a personal level, and they take interest in what you’re doing. You can really connect with them outside of class. I think that aids the learning because you don’t have a barrier to inquiring about the material or clarifying something that’s not clear. It’s not structured in a way that you have lectures all the time and then materials that you get tested on. I feel like the assignments are less frequent, but they focus more on applied learning. You’re learning the concepts but then you also have excursions and other opportunities or projects to apply the theoretical concepts onto an actual problem, which has been beneficial in learning the material. That way if something doesn’t work you can see and think of ways to fix it.”
Have you been on any class excursions so far?
“They tend to not plan them between November to February, just because the weather is not great. We did several in my first course, Population and Community Ecology, however. We had several days where we stayed at some cabins overnight and we would go out to national parks every day. You would have a study organism and collect your own data, then bring it back and do projects that you would present to the rest of class. That was a good opportunity to get out in the field and gain experience doing that, but also to think critically, analyse your data and practise presenting. It was quite well rounded. Yesterday we went on an excursion for my Conservation Biology course, to a nature reserve about two hours away. There we got to be out in a semi-wild area and see a lot of deer and European bison in their natural environment, which was quite cool.”
How does the Animal Ecology programme differ from the other specialisations in the Biology department?
“I would say there can be more or less overlap in terms of academics and extracurricular or professional opportunities within all the specialisations: the possibilities are there and it depends on the choices you make. I have taken courses with students from all specialisations with the Master’s programme in Biology. I think the distinction between Animal Ecology and the Plant Science and Aquatic Ecology tracks is evident in their names: they focus on different subsets of organisms and ecosystems and allow you to study them more in depth. Contrastingly, the General Biology programme allows you to try a wide range of courses without necessarily focusing in one area. I’ve found the distinction between the Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology specialisations to be less clear though, and actually initially applied for both since I saw ways either could fit my personal and professional goals. Both these programmes have similar recommended and required coursework, and aim to emphasise theoretical and applied concepts in ecology and evolution, though the applications themselves may be different. Ultimately, what you get out of any programme depends on the choices you make within the Biology department, and the exact degree you get will be influenced by what you focus on. For me, what has set me apart as specifically an Animal Ecology student has ended up being my thesis project.”
What are you focusing your thesis on?
“I’m investigating offspring sex ratios and offspring sex-specific performance in a population of tawny owls – Strix aluco – that are part of a long-term monitoring in Finland. I will be assessing these variables in relation to parental color – of two morphs/variations – and food availability.”
Have you had any opportunities for networking within the department?
“I think there are opportunities for networking. The professors tend to rotate throughout the courses, so you tend to see some of the same people again. They’re very accessible for finding opportunities and they really encourage questions. You have to take advantage of it and put yourself out there, however. I tried to do that a bit more in terms of looking for a thesis, and it worked out well. The professors are good contacts for finding projects. If they can’t help you, they may know somebody else who can help you with a project.”
Why do you think prospective students should choose the Animal Ecology programme?
“A lot of Master’s programmes tend to be one year or entirely research based. The reason I specifically picked a two-year, course-based Master’s is because I didn’t really know what I wanted to research and get into. I took a look at the courses they were offering and the topics interested me and involved a wide range of study organisms, examples and exposure to different things. If you’re looking for an opportunity to discover new things or learn more in depth about things that interest you and see which direction you want to go, then this is a good programme for you.”
What do you plan to do after your studies?
“I’m interested in working in the US. Right now, my main focus is wildlife management or conservation biology. I would like to work for a US environmental agency or other non-profit environmental or conservation-oriented organisation doing wildlife management. Initially, I’d be out there in the field collecting data on wildlife populations within preserved or otherwise managed areas. I’d like to use that information to understand population dynamics and impacts of different management options, and eventually craft policies based on that.”
What’s it like to be an international student at Lund?
“There are a lot of international students here. It’s nice to be back with people not necessarily from my culture; having a little more diversity around me is a nice feeling. At the same time, there’s so many opportunities to get immersed in the Swedish culture.”
What do you think of Lund as a city?
“I think it’s definitely a smaller city and a slower feel than I’m used to since I come from metropolitan areas. In terms of being accessible and having things oriented to international students, I feel it’s pretty strong. It’s easy to feel connected to nature – there’s a lot of green spaces in the city itself, but also beautiful nature reserves easily reached outside Lund by public transportation. I definitely recommend exploring Skåne when the weather is nice in early fall or late spring.”