On Bird Seed, Arts and Crafts and the Scottish Weather

As I approach the 6th week of my project, I reflect on my journey up to this point and the expectations I had of it before beginning. I had been sure that the most challenging aspect of my project would be that of self-leadership – the thought of working 9-5 was a far stretch from my usual late night bar-tending summer schedule, and I worried that I would struggle to stay engaged with my research over such a long period. Little did I know that the frustration would come not from problems staying interested in my research, but from problems actually managing to carry out my research at all.

As a biologist I thought myself to be well used to the trials and tribulations of practical work – the patience required to repeatedly reset a complex experiment in order to carry out seemingly never-ending replicates, the accuracy needed to exactly record what appear to be inconsequential details, and the resilience demanded when your experiment spectacularly fails for what feels like 1000th time. However, over the last 6 weeks I have realised that despite all this, we as students have in fact had it easy, with the most complex, time-consuming and downright frustrating aspect of experimental design always taken care of for us – the sourcing and manufacturing of materials.

Over the course of my project I have spent more time sketching, colour-matching, cutting out, laminating, moulding, baking, painting and coating than I ever thought possible, all in preparation for experiments that always seemed so far from being ready to actually perform. I’ve had so many test-drives that the birds of St Andrews now flock to me when I approach as they know food is sure to follow, and my most recommended category on Amazon will probably never revert from ‘Garden and DIY’.

Who knew finding the right shade of green card would be such a demanding task?

Despite all of this, by week 4 I was finally ready to collect some data and was feeling positive. My hopes were swiftly dashed when I opened the blinds on Monday morning and was greeted not with the glorious sunshine of the previous few weeks, but with torrential rain. With all of my experiments requiring dry conditions, the result was a frustrating week spent indoors, reading papers I could only guess at the relevance of without knowing the outcome of my study.

While the Scottish weather continues to be the greatest enemy to my progress, slowly but surely I am nearing the end of data collection and am looking forward to getting stuck into the analysis. Despite my challenges I am glad to have been kept on my toes, and the variable timetable has kept things interesting, even with a few slow (rainy) days here and there. The significance of my results remains to be seen, but if all else fails, I’ve gained some essential patience, and became a mean plasticine sculptor.

Feeding my needy birds on a rare dry day.

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