Emma Hourston

Emma Hourston, from Kirkwall Grammar School in Orkney spent six weeks this summer working on her Nuffield project.  Working with Professor Jon Side, Andrew Want and Michael Bell, Emma was based at the International Centre for Island Technology, a part of the Orkney campus of Heriot-Watt University. Emma’s project was titled ‘Gibbula Species as Biological Sentinels of Wave Exposure’ and involved both fieldwork and lab work in the area of marine biology.

Emma Hourston

How did you get involved in the Nuffield Research Placements scheme and why did you want to take part in the programme?
I became involved in the Nuffield Research Placements scheme after my teacher told me about it. I was intrigued, especially as I knew people who had done the project in previous years. I also heard that the experience would give me valuable skills for work in the world of science.

What were the aims of your project, and how did you go about achieving these?
The aim of my project was to determine whether Gibbula, or topshells, are suitable biological sentinels for wave exposure. I had to collect samples from various coasts, and because it is Orkney, the weather wasn't always too kind! I also needed to measure the width, determine species and navigate the alien world of statistics to achieve my goals.

What did you learn most from your placement experience?
I learned more than I could possibly list from my experience, but perhaps the most valuable were organisational skills, how to carry out independent research (which, I have found, is essential in my advanced higher courses), and how to write clear, concise science reports. I suspect that learning this is the reason I have been gaining A grades in every essay I write in my Biology class (and not just pure luck!)

How have you shared your placement experience with others at school?
Back at school, I have been spreading the word on the Nuffield Research Placements scheme and its benefits to those who are in the position I was a year ago - a fifth year unsure of the career path I would follow. I have also given a short presentation about my project to my Advanced Higher Biology class, to show the hard work required to complete even a small investigation.

What are your longer term plans and how did your placement experience affect these plans?
In the future, I would like to become a forensic scientist who specialises in forensic anthropology. The work I carried out in the summer helped me confirm my choice of career, as much of my work was similar to what I would need to do in forensics, despite it being a marine biology project. It may seem boring to some, but sitting in a laboratory carefully examining and analysing samples is now something I look forward to!

Emma Hourston