TY2013:”I’m pretty sure I know where I’ll be going to college in a couple of years’ time”

John Cullen of Kinsale Community School outlines his week at the BEES TY2013 Programme:

Monday: This week, for my Transition Year work experience, I am spending the week spanning from January 28th to February 1st at the School of Biological Earth & Environmental Sciences – or BEES – in U.C.C.  We began our week shortly before ten on Monday morning in the foyer of the main BEES building.  From here we made our way to a laboratory in the adjoining Butler Building where we were greeted by the head of the school, Prof. John O’Halloran, who welcomed us.

Following this, our guide for the week, Grace Cott, brought us on a tour of the School of BEES and its environs, with points of interest including but not limited to the Plant Modification Labs and the nearby glasshouses.  The tour concluded back in the foyer where, having been moving for the best part of two hours, we were more than ready for lunch.

The other thirteen students and I spent the next hour in the cafeteria, before meeting up with Grace again in the foyer at one o’ clock.  We were subsequently escorted back to the lab in the Butler Building for an insightful lecture on Geology, given by Prof. Andy Wheeler.  At two o’ clock, Prof. Wheeler finished up and proceeded to lead us upstairs to our first practical, which consisted of examining some fossilised trilobite remains and sketching them out as best we could.  We also took turns looking through microscopes at a number of other fossils, which was also quite interesting.

Tuesday:  The second day of our work experience began with what was probably one of my favourite sessions of the week – a zoology lecture and practical with Prof. Gavin Burnell, who had kindly provided us with fourteen sea urchins to examine.  We placed a number of items into their individual tanks, and spent the remainder of the week checking in on our aquatic comrades to see how they were reacting to these gifts.  Mine in particular has so far donned (then removed) a pink cloth, moved everything in his tank around repeatedly, covered himself in a rock and a mussel shell, and topping it off by eating most of the seaweed I left for him.

it’s quite something to hear something that looks somewhat like a peacock making sounds akin to those of an industrial chainsaw

The next period had been set aside for a second practical, this one involving the capturing and examination of birds, but unfortunately, due to inclement weather, we were forced to make do with a lecture on birds with Dr. John Quinn indoors.  This ended up being just as enjoyable though, as Dr. Quinn proved to be what sounded to me like an expert in his field, discussing various avian species to us in detail before showing us a number of spectacular videos detailing some of the surprising skills of crows, lyre birds and hawks.  I think I speak for most of us at least when I say that it’s quite something to hear something that looks somewhat like a peacock making sounds akin to those of an industrial chainsaw.

The last two hours after break on Tuesday were set aside to plant science.  We first had an admittedly humorous lecture with the entertaining yet still informative Prof. Peter Jones, who kept our attention with such topics as a mortally wounded tree called Eric and disturbingly sophisticated rice.  Following this we had an intriguing practical with Dr. Barbara Doyle Prestwich, who allowed us to use microscopes to examine an infection on some plant cells.

Wednesday:  We met ten minutes earlier than usual on Wednesday, as we were preparing for our first expedition to the huge main campus.  Here we went on a tour of the collosal Boole Library with Anne Byrne, who granted us permission to look upon the libraries invaluable Special Archives.  Here, being a reader, I was especially blown away – it’s not every day you get to see a first edition copy of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” or an ancient tome written by monks in the 1400’s.

At 11:15, J.P Quinn brought us on an historic tour of the college, pointing out places of interest in the ornate buildings and throughout U.C.C’s beautiful grounds.  We got a glimpse of the rarely-seen interior of the Crawford Observatory, and were also shown the famous Quad, the Aula Maxima and the Hiberno-Roman-built Honan Chapel.

We finished up on Wednesday with a number of short practicals with three postgraduate students, where we infected petri-dishes with fungus, blasted plants with UV rays, and potentially helped Irish farmers by mixing some interesting compost.

This would certainly rank as at least my second favourite session of the week, for the main reasons that 1) it was informative and educational, and 2) we got to set things on fire

Thursday:  Yesterday was our second last day of the work experience, and the last one which I will be able to speak about.  We began the day with an interactive careers talk with Shay Nolan in the Computer Lab, where we drew some posters detailing rabid wolf-rabbits and stickmen, all in the name of zoology.  Following this we braved the main cafeteria of the main campus for our break (after a quick check on our urchins, I might add), before finishing up the shorter day with an exciting series of experiments performed by David O’Connell in the Eureka Lab.  This would certainly rank as at least my second favourite session of the week, for the main reasons that 1) it was informative and educational, and 2) we got to set things on fire.

It’s Friday now, and we still have a lot to do, but I’ll finish up on the blog for now.  We still have to check our petri-dishes in the pathology lab, and later we’re heading out the Lough for some sampling.  So far, I’ve found the week to be a really great experience, giving me a good feel for the courses I may or may not want to do – and it was fun, with it.  I’d recommend the course to any T.Y’s interested at all in science, regardless of what you got in the Junior Cert, as you’re not too tied down by results when it comes to this field, and the course and career choices are almost endless.  I, personally, am pretty sure I know where I’ll be going to college in a couple of years’ time…

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