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Meet the Team: MSc Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health

Meet the friendly and dedicated team who run our online Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health programme. Find out more about what they do and why they enjoy working on this programme.

Dr Sharron Ogle

Programme Director

Sharron Ogle, Programme Director, MSc Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health

 

I’m Programme Director for the online Postgraduate programmes in Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health (BWEH).  I first came to the University of Edinburgh aged 17, the first in my family to do so, totally naive and woefully under prepared. I had been accepted to study medicine and although I was excited about it I had absolutely no idea what would be involved.

In school I had thought I wanted to be a vet as I loved animals, but an encounter at a vet surgery during work experience with a gigantic Rottweiler who less than impressed with having his testicles removed really put me off!  Being academically capable in a state school led to the inevitable question then of whether I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer.

There was no competition there as I didn't especially enjoy arguing, but four years later I had to accept that the reality of being a doctor wasn’t one that was going to work for me either and I left to train as a secondary teacher in biology.

 

As a teacher I was finally in a space where I felt comfortable and where I knew I was doing a good job. I loved the buzz of the classroom and the privilege of being part of so many young people's lives. Unfortunately my total commitment and immersion in teaching was also to be my downfall as I burnt out very quickly and had to leave my dream job and my students behind after only 5 years.

From there I went back to the only other thing I knew how to do, and that was learn.  I returned to the University of Edinburgh to complete an MSc in Reproductive Biology, where I worked with Simon Riley.

I then did a PhD focusing on conservation breeding of a threatened Indonesian wild pig species with Alastair Macdonald at the Vet School. That work took me to zoos and universities all over the place, which was challenging but fun and I loved the independence of it.

 

At the end of my PhD, I worked with Edinburgh Zoo to convert an old teaching space into a genetics laboratory, and through conversations between the zoo and the University I was asked if I’d like to set up an online Masters programme with the University's newly established Global Health Academy

In those early years I loved the freedom and creativity that came with making something from nothing, and I was happy to be back in my comfortable place as a teacher with our first cohort of 17 unsuspecting students.

Fast forward 10 years and we now have 180 students and a team of 6 full-time members of staff. The transition hasn't all been easy, with increasing levels of responsibility and inevitably workload, but I am very lucky to be supported by a committed team who share my ethic of working hard for students but not taking it so seriously it breaks you. I continue to be overwhelmed by the trust our students put in us to help them invest in their future and often make significant life changes. 

 

To keep me on the straight and narrow I like to be outdoors; cycling, climbing, paddling or walking the dog. Otherwise it's crime novels and Scandi TV.

 

Thoughts on our programme team

As a core teaching team we’re generally a happy bunch, different in our approaches and our academic backgrounds, but all totally committed to supporting our students and giving the best online learning experience we can.

In reality we are a multidisciplinary, multi-demographic community of around 200 people, if you include the core staff, external tutors and our students this year.  Oh, and another 160 or so if you add our alumni!  And that’s where the real joy of this programme is, in the vast range of people who join us to meet like-minded people, to enhance their practice, to change career and above all to do something worthwhile in response to the many challenges facing the natural world. 

I think I speak for the whole team in feeling exceptionally privileged to get to know our students, to develop their knowledge and skills, and above all to grow their sense of self-confidence that they can make a difference in whatever part of the world they live.

 

 

Rob Thomas

Deputy Programme Director

 

Rob Thomas, Deputy Programme Director, MSc Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health

I first studied Biological Sciences in Manchester in the early 1980s and then fell into a job as a zoo keeper in the South West of England.  I took some time out to travel around South America, Pacific, Australia and South East Asia for a few years, then moved to Edinburgh Zoo in the early 1990s. 

I then completed an Open University degree in biology and systems thinking, followed by an MSc at Edinburgh Napier in Wildlife Biology and Conservation.  This segued into becoming Conservation and Research Manager at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which was when I got to know Sharron Ogle. 

 

During this time I also enjoyed teaching animal behaviour and welfare at the Vet School, and in 2013 I was given the opportunity of a full-time teaching post on the BWEH programme.  Having spent 8 years as a part-time, distance student whilst working full-time, I fully appreciate the demands that our ODL programme places on our students.  

As an ever-expanding teaching team we are fortunate in being able to focus almost entirely on delivering the many and varied courses that make up the programme portfolio. The greatest reward for me is the level of commitment and engagement that we get from our students.  Their collective knowledge is by far the greatest resource. 

 

In my spare time I like to sweat my way through the occasional triathlon, think my way around the occasional golf course, wrangle with a saxophone and go for long walks with the dog. In no particular order. Well ok, the dog one is always top of the list.

 

 

Ellie Devenish-Nelson

Teaching Fellow

 

Ellie Devenish-Nelson, Teaching Fellow, MSc Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health

This is my fourth year as a Teaching Fellow on the MSc in Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health. Before joining the University of Edinburgh in 2016, I was a Postdoctoral Research Assistant at the University of Chester, modelling climate change impacts on dry forest habitats in Grenada. At the same time, I taught online for the University of the West Indies MSc in Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development in the Caribbean.

I started my university life studying for a BSc in Zoology at the University of Leeds.

After a couple of years as a research assistant and volunteer on various wildlife projects in the UK and Trinidad, I completed an MSc in Conservation at University College London, escaping to Trinidad to do my dissertation on habitat use of Neotropical otters, where I ended up living for 10 years.

Being on a small island, I was lucky enough to work on a wide range of projects that broadened my interests, including mammal trapping, threatened bird and seabird surveys, orchid population dynamics and lots more.

I went on to complete my PhD at Durham University, on population and disease ecology of red foxes, which provided me with many skills that I apply to my research in the Caribbean.

I'm currently involved in research on the status of endemic birds and the effectiveness of protected areas in the Caribbean. I tell my students to embrace all opportunities as you never know where they’ll take you, which I know from my own experience.

When I started out in conservation I never thought that I’d help write the National Protected Area Systems Plan for Trinidad and Tobago, be a contributing author on a couple of chapters for the 6th Assessment Report of the IPCC and, I’ve just agreed to be a Lead Author on the Grenada National Ecosystem Assessment.  

 

As a team we mostly work remotely (even pre-Covid-19) and while we enjoy meeting face to face, maybe we get on well because of this! We work hard but we have fun and I think this reflects back into our teaching.

We make our online learning environment just as challenging and fulfilling as being face-to-face and it enables us to reach students who wouldn’t be able to physically move to Edinburgh. Engaging with such a diverse group of students means that every day we are also learning.

Many of our students come from non-science backgrounds and it’s truly rewarding in particular to see these students grow and become more confident. I’m constantly amazed at what our students achieve and the insights they bring to our programme.

I love hearing about how our alumni are effecting change in conservation throughout the world. This makes all the stress of teaching worthwhile and attests to our shared vision of the programme. 

 

 

Harriet Thatcher

Teaching Fellow

 

Harriet Thatcher, Teaching Fellow, MSc Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health

I studied at Liverpool John Moores University for my BSc, MPhil and PhD. I studied Zoology for my BSc and quickly developed an interest in behavioural ecology and become fascinated with primate social behaviour.

After my undergraduate degree I took a research placement assessing welfare of captive primates that eventually turned into my masters project. For my PhD, I was fortunate to collaborate with Liverpool John Moores and The University of KwaZulu-Natal studying urban monkeys in South Africa.

My PhD research considered multiple aspects of behavioural ecology allowing me to practice a variety of behavioural recording and analysis skills and learn a new skill in parasitology.

Since my PhD I have maintained good connections with my collaborators in South Africa, continuing my primate research but also contributing to more broad research focusing on the anthropogenic landscape and human-wildlife cohabitation.

 

I am still fairly new to the teaching team, joining in summer 2019. My first year on the course went so fast and I learnt so much not only from the BWEH team, but also the students. The students really do make the programme what it is, creating a diverse and supportive community and I am very excited to meet the new 2020 cohort.

 

In my free time I can either be found outdoors enjoying nature or in the kitchen baking. I have also found a new love in sea swimming since moving to Scotland (not something I thought I would ever say!)

 

 

Louise Beveridge

Teaching Fellow

 

Louise Beveridge, Teaching Fellow, MSc Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health

I started university life with a foundation diploma in art and design at the Arts University Bournemouth, through which I spent most of my time researching and communicating social and environmental issues. This led me to the BSc in Ecological Sciences here at Edinburgh University.

During the degree I took every opportunity available to me to gain experience, from working in labs studying the epigenetics of Arabidopsis thaliana in the basement of the biology department, to measuring species composition, leaf area and carbon exchange. 

This work took me first to the Peak District in the UK, then further afield to Toolkit Lake in Alaska and Hershel Island, Canada on expeditions led by colleagues at the School of Geosciences.

I wasn’t confident academically so hadn’t considered a career path in research, but through multiple field seasons as an assistant to friendly, driven and knowledgeable female scientists, as well as some strong mentoring from my personal tutor, I was slowly convinced of my capabilities.

 

Once I graduated, I went to work in the tropics as a naturalist with the University of Georgia, based in a cloud forest reserve in Costa Rica. Then for my PhD I studied the role of climate and drought in chronic and acute food insecurity among rural agricultural households in Guatemala.

My research interest developed around interdisciplinary methods, integrating physical and social sciences, and applying systems approaches, which I am currently working on as a contributing author to the next UK Climate Change Risk Assessment.   

 

Although I’m just starting out as a teaching fellow on the MSc in Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health, I’m really excited by the diversity of backgrounds and professions the students come from and the different knowledge, experience and perspectives they bring to dynamic discussions.

Having never really had a disciplinary home to sit in, it’s been great to find a working environment and job role that celebrates and develops interdisciplinary teaching at such a fundamental level.

 

Andrew Le Tissier

Programme Administrator

 

Andrew Le Tissier, programme administrator

I studied at Thames Valley University for my Honours degree in Business Studies and Human Resource Management. Since graduating I went in to the Aerospace and Defence Industry working with commercial Airlines and various defence organisations planning and reporting maintenance requirements and investigations.

 

Two years ago I made the decision to move to Scotland and leave the hurley burley of the South East of England. Sixteen months ago I started at the University as a Postgraduate Programme Administrator.

I am fortunate enough to have been assigned the Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health Programme finding it a diverse and interesting programme to administer. Anything non-academic relating to the programme comes under my sphere, including anything from course enrolment, releasing marks and feedback to relaying course information and individual queries, whether they be IT or course-related.

 

In my spare time I go hill walking most weekends and relax watching rugby. I enjoy cooking but more often than not it does not turn out as it should but thankfully still edible. I always put time aside at weekends to read and I am currently immersed in World War One.

 

 

 

 

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