1. Tell us about yourself.
My name is Kirsty Shakespeare and I studied BSc Zoology at ARU from 2005 to 2008 before going on to study an MSc in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation at Imperial College London.
For the last 14 months I have been living in Bangkok and working for a sustainability and environmental education program called The Barge Program. We work with local and International schools throughout Thailand and South East Asia to deliver educational field trips studying the Chao Phraya River and its watershed. As Thailand's main river it is culturally and historically very important and it supports a variety of habitats from the Cloud forests in the Northern Mountains, through the rainforests and agricultural pastures of the Central plains to the mangroves and marine habitats in the Gulf of Thailand.
2. What is your fondest memory at Anglia Ruskin University?
Going out on field trips which the department offered. We went to some fantastic locations and many of the activities were firsts for me, the first time I had seen deer rutting, the first time I’d seen a seal, the first time I’d ever been scuba diving and then first time I ever saw a shark or a green turtle or stingray! As well as experiencing all these amazing ‘animal firsts', it was a chance to do field research which taught us valuables skills and also a great opportunity to bond with friends and lecturers outside the classroom. We did have some pretty good parties and nights out at the Students' Union as well!
3. What advice would you give to current students as they're preparing to graduate?
To get into the life sciences field, volunteering is really important. It is very competitive, so set yourself apart from other graduates by volunteering your time in something related to the job you hope to get. A lot of job opportunities are offered to volunteers already within the company, so you may be able to get a foot in the door and be first to know about any jobs that come up. As a volunteer you have already shown your commitment to the job and company, you are known by managers and colleagues and you are already trained in some elements of the job, so are an obvious choice for any roles that come up. Also don't be disheartened if it takes you a while to get into the field, it took me three years after graduating from my Masters to get my first degree related job, so don't give up!
4. What do you know now that you wish you had known whilst you were studying?
It's not just academic qualifications that are important. The whole university experience shapes who you become as a young adult, about to enter the big wide world of work. Every aspect of your time at university develops skills, knowledge, responsibilities and experiences that will help you in your working life and on any career path you follow.It's not just academic qualifications that are important. The whole university experience shapes who you become as a young adult, about to enter the big wide world of work. Every aspect of your time at university develops skills, knowledge, responsibilities and experiences that will help you in your working life and on any career path you follow.
5. How did your time at Anglia Ruskin help you?
My time at Anglia taught me all the skills I needed heading into adulthood. Like many students, it was my first time living away from home, so basic skills like how to manage my finances and pay bills, how to work a washing machine and how to cook for myself were key life skills learnt during my time at ARU! Studying developed my social and communication skills, improved my confidence in delivering presentations and gave me a chance to develop conflict resolution skills, all of which have been important in my working life. Obviously then there was the specific academic knowledge which helped me to gain my first degree related job and the ongoing support and friendship of lecturers who have proof read countless CVs, cover letters and continue even now to provide job references and useful career guidance.
6. What did you love about your chosen course?
The lecturers we had were very passionate and engaged with the subject. I looked at many universities and still distinctly remember speaking to Dr Philip Pugh when I came to the Open Day and thinking ‘Wow he really knows his stuff, he'd be great to learn from’ and luckily for me he ended up being my personal tutor. All of our lecturers were experts in their field, but more than that, they were friendly, supportive and encouraging. Also we were offered the chance to go on amazing field trips - we watched the Red deer rut on Rhum, surveyed the baby Grey seals at Donna Nook, I got my scuba qualifications on a dive trip to Egypt and even went shark diving in South Africa with leading shark researchers.
7. What would you tell someone thinking of studying at ARU?
Go for it, Cambridge is a fantastic city to be a student and Anglia staff are very supportive.
8. In one word how would you describe Anglia Ruskin?
I’m not sure I can manage one word but I'd definitely say 'life changing'!
9. Who was the biggest influence on your career?
David Attenborough was who initially opened my eyes to the natural world, he's obviously a hero to many in the life sciences field, but also my Dad. He was always keen on nature and when I was young encouraged me with bird watching and nature walks and carried home a dozen library books for me every week on the weird and wonderful creatures of the world. He always supported me studying and following my dream of working with animals and nature in some way. It was Dad who drove me (literally!) all over the country to visit university open days, helped me move into university accommodation and lent me money when I'd spent my student loan in the SU bar rather than on books or bills! When I was volunteering or had job interviews, Dad drove me and helped my with my interview preparation. The moment I was offered my first degree related job, as Education Development Officer at The Living Rainforest, my first thoughts were how excited I was to have finally gotten my big break and how proud my Dad would be that I'd made it into the field I wanted to work in. Dad even bought me a car so I could get to work as public transport wasn't an option. He still continues to support and encourage me and I hope soon he will come to Thailand so I can share with him some of the amazing experiences he has helped me achieve.
10. What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Getting my first career related job as Education Development Officer for The Living Rainforest, an education and sustainability charity and visitor centre in Berkshire. Having wanted to work with animals and nature for as long as I can remember, having put in the hard work at university and all the countless hours of voluntary work I'd done, I'd finally gotten my dream job and all the support I'd been given by friends and family paid off. I was there almost 5 years and it was a great learning opportunity for me. Getting my first career related job as Education Development Officer for The Living Rainforest, an education and sustainability charity and visitor centre in Berkshire. Having wanted to work with animals and nature for as long as I can remember, having put in the hard work at university and all the countless hours of voluntary work I'd done, I'd finally gotten my dream job and all the support I'd been given by friends and family paid off. I was there almost 5 years and it was a great learning opportunity for me.
11. What advice would you give your younger self?
Learn and take experience from everything you do. I worked in Retail and Recruitment for three years after graduating my Masters degree and while trying to get a degree-related job. In the end, it was a lot of the skills I had learnt in recruitment and in the office environment and the customer service skills learnt in retail that helped to get me my first degree related job at The Living Rainforest as well as my academic qualifications.
12. What drives you?
I love nature and being outdoors and am curious about everything! I enjoy learning about the natural world and sharing that knowledge and enthusiasm with others. Working with students is a fantastic opportunity as they still have that fascination for nature that leaves many of us as we grow older. Being able to keep that spark alive and encourage it to grow is immensely rewarding. With current global leadership denying responsibility and being slow to take action, it is the young people of today we will be relying on to save the planet and reverse the destruction that humans have caused.
13. What’s next?
I have just been promoted and took over as the Head of The Barge Program in August, so will be staying in Thailand another three years at least! My new role will allow me to expand the programs we currently offer to develop new programs and ways of engaging young people and schools in sustainability and nature education throughout Thailand and South East Asia and hopefully even further afield.