"I’ve been running a project on the breeding Wheatears of Skokholm Island, Pembrokeshire since 2017. The Wheatear is a small migratory songbird which winters in Africa and breeds throughout Europe. It is still a common bird but is in decline, particularly so in Wales with its strongholds being the uplands and coastal islands.
"I am a qualified bird ringer. This means I am licenced to fit a small lightweight ring to the bird’s leg which allows individual recognition. I’m working under the auspices of the local Wildlife Trust who own the island and I’ve already gathered a significant amount of data.
"I’m aware that I’m a novice when it comes to the structure and science behind gathering and presenting research findings. Sure, I can do basic survival calculations, map out breeding pairs and even document previously unseen behaviour. But what about looking for patterns in the data that aren’t immediately obvious? When I write up the research, will I do it justice? Am I documenting it to a recognised standard? Do I have a good understanding of what others have published specific to my study species? If I want to continue with my research into wheatears or study another subject, have I gained any research skills along the way? The answers all appeared to be ‘no’.
"The Masters by Research degree seems a perfect fit. I have the flexibility to work remotely and part time. I can fit the work around my life - there are no lectures to attend at specific times. I can focus specifically on my subject and concentrate my efforts on what interests me.
"Two months in - I have fantastic support back-up from my specialist supervisors, USW people and resources. I already have a very good idea of the additional skills I need to acquire and how to go about doing so. I now know how to put the academic rigor into my study. And with the support available I will be able to continue my fieldwork and produce an academically sound thesis which will do justice to the project, the wheatears and myself.
"At the end of my Masters by Research not only will I have achieved what I want from my current study but I will have the skills and confidence to apply the learning to further research projects. You don’t have to have a project up and running to start an MRes – it just happened that way for me. You may have a professional area of interest or want to expand an undergraduate thesis. You may wish to further your academic career or concentrate research on a topic that interests you. You may want a ‘stepping-stone’ to a PhD. Whatever - I encourage you to consider the Masters by Research pathway."
Ian's supervisor Dr Jeremy Smith said remotely learning works well for many students: "Many aspects of teaching and research have changed due to Covid-19, one of those has been supervision of students. The incorporation of conferencing technology has changed how we interact and has enhanced the ability to supervise and study remotely.
"Ian lives in a different part of the country from his supervisors and collaborators, however with the use of Microsoft Teams, we are all able to get together and discuss plans, project ideas and progress without having to meet face to face. Online sharing of documents also means that data can be shared, commented on edited from a distance all of which facilitates a research student's progress.
"So whether you are in the next town, country or continent it can be possible to study the things you love with a team around you who share the same passion. If you have a desire to learn and study then we can work together to make it a reality," added Dr Smith.
Retired civil servant Ian Beggs, from Harlech, is studying a part time Masters by Research at USW. His supervisors are Dr Jeremy Smith and Dr David Lee of the Wildlife Ecology Research group within the Applied Sciences Research Group. (Photo by Phil Dean)