Last year I wrote about my experience of being a tutor at the British Ecological Society’s Undergraduate Summer School at the Malham Tarn Field Studies Council site. I really enjoyed myself and also found it very refreshing to have the opportunity to interact with 50 bright young proto-ecologists. It appears that the students also enjoyed themselves as I was invited back this year to repeat my performance. I was very happy to accept the offer, after all, any chance to visit the county of my birth (Yorkshire) is not to be sneezed at and with the added bonus of being able to talk about entomology to a new audience thrown in I would have been made to turn it down. Thus it was that I headed up the dreaded M6 motorway on a sunny Monday afternoon (July 18th) with joy in my heart and a car boot full of entomological equipment and identification keys. The M6 did not disappoint and I spent an hour sweltering in the summer sunshine very slowly (very, very slowly) making my way through the inevitable road works. Luckily, being one of those people who likes to arrive early for appointments, I was only fifteen minutes late collecting my trusty assistant, Fran Sconce, from the very picturesque Settle Station and then heading up on to the FSC Malham Tarn site.
We unloaded the car and just had time to set up 35 pitfall traps before heading in for the evening meal after which the students went on a long walk to Malham Cove.
The long walk
I walked part of the way back with them but turned back in time to get to the bar 🙂 for a very welcome drink, before retiring to bed.
The next day was even hotter, and we spent the morning setting up the labs and teaching areas.
This year, as well as the fifty undergraduates we had ten sixth form students from several different schools in London. Last year interacting with a class of fifty had posed certain difficulties, so this year we divided the students into two groups and ran the session twice, once on the Tuesday afternoon and then again on the Wednesday morning. This worked extremely well and meant that Fran and I and the PhD mentors assigned to us, were able to spend much more time with each student and also meant that we were not as rushed off our feet as we would have been otherwise. So a win/win outcome, although I did have to give the same lecture twice in 24 hours which was an interesting experience. On the Tuesday afternoon, I started with my lecture on why entomology is important and an overview of the insects.
I seem to have done a lot of arm waving
We then went outside and I demonstrated sampling methods while the students baked under, a by now, extremely hot sun, before sending them off to empty and reset the pitfall traps and collect other insects using nets and beating trays.
Being cruel to trees
Some of the stars of the day
Then it was back to the labs to identify the catches before the evening meal and refreshing drink or two in the bar*. After the bar closed we had the fluorescent beetle extravaganza. Last year I demonstrated the use of fluorescent dust on one hapless carabid beetle. This year I used ten, and two different coloured dusts. The beetles were then released after dark in
the courtyard outside the teaching labs where they were photographed fluorescing colourfully under my UV flashlight, as I ‘chased’ them around the arena, much to the delight of the watching students.
As the weather forecast was not very good for the Wednesday morning, we did the insect sampling first, in case the forecast rain was as heavy as predicted. As it turned out, apart from a short sharp shower, whilst I was demonstrating sampling methods, the sun came out and there were plenty of insects to collect before I did my lecture and we headed in to the labs for another ID session. All too soon the session was over, and Fran and I, after a hasty lunch, drove back down to Shropshire.
I think that the BES summer school is a superb idea and that the students get a great deal from it. I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope that I get the chance to be involved in any future summer schools. I was also greatly impressed by the 6th formers who certainly seemed to enjoy my entomology session, one of whom produced this excellent drawing.
Much better than anything I could draw
For those of you on Twitter #bestug16 will give you a flavour of the whole week.
*staffed that evening by the son of my best friend from school!