Karolina Petrovic

Student spotlight details

Having obtained her PhD, Karolina Petrovic found that she still needed strong practitical skills and know-how to boost her employability. During the PGCert in Ecological Survey Techniques she discovered a passion for applied conservation and environmental management, and engaged numerous stakeholders through her Field Project.

'From an early age I was interested in exploring the natural world. I recall a happy childhood spent in Serbia discovering the mating habits of stray cats, catching bugs and making my first herbarium of local weeds at the age of six. Thus, it was natural for me to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Biology at the University of Warsaw, Poland.

'During my studies I bacame intrigued by the Christmas tradition of kissing under the mistletoe, and for my Master’s degree I did research on the autoecology and ethnobotany of the European common mistletoe (Viscum album). This interest brought me to Australia, a home to more than 90 species of mistletoes, where I did my PhD in Ecology at the Charles Sturt University. My research focused on foraging interactions between mistletoes, their tree hosts and a leaf-eating marsupial, the common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula).

'Although my previous studies equipped me with advanced ecological concepts and skills to design and conduct research independently, sometimes I felt I was too specialised and limited with job opportunities. I wanted to boost my employability, broaden my horizons and gain experience working with different groups of organisms, from plant communities and invertebrates to reptiles and mammals. Also, I wanted to improve my statistical and spatial analysis skills, and learn open-source programs R and QGIS. The Postgraduate Certificate in Ecological Survey Techniques at the University of Oxford met all my professional needs and expecations, gave me the competitive edge and made me a well-rounded ecologist!

'The most engaging and challenging parts of the course, but at the same time the most rewarding, were attending practical training sessions at the face-to-face week in Oxford, participating in online discussion forums, designing and conducting a Field Project, and keeping up with the fast pace of the course. It required me to grasp new concepts and master skills quickly, think independently and critically and carry out high-quality research. During the face-to-face week I had a chance to visit Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire to learn more about one of the most researched sites in the world. I very much enjoyed interactions with tutors and fellow students through discussion forums. It was a thrilling to realise how much I could learn from students with different scientific backgrounds and expertise working in different parts of the world.

'I was very surprised how easy and fun it was to learn statistics, because in the past it was always my stumbling block. The module Data Analysis in Ecology: Statistics for Ecologists and Field Biologists was clearly structured; it avoided using technical jargon and instead provided plenty of real-life examples. It was both a gentle introduction to the ‘scary’ world of statistics and encouragement to start using R in my own research. It allowed me to develop a sampling strategy and collect data in the field with the full confidence thatI could carry out statistical analyses independently. I also enjoyed doing the Field Techniques for Surveying Vegetation and Invertebrates modules as they filled in gaps in my knowledge and allowed me to participate in lively forum discussions and exchange ideas with real plant and bug enthusiasts. During the course I realized how much I would like to move from pure ecological research to applied conservation and environmental management - doing the Field Project was a unique opportunity for me to branch out into a new area.

'For my Field Project I studied the population status, distribution and microhabitat requirements of the European ground squirrel (Spermophilus citellus), an IUCN vulnerable species, currently in decline across most of its European range. I have developed general guidelines for species conservation and habitat management and highlighted its ecological importance. Based on the results of my research a new action plan will be designed to improve habitat conditions in the reserve where I worked. I have entirely enjoyed carrying out my Field Project; I managed to inspire and engage scientists from Poland and Serbia, a local NGO and the community in species conservation. I will be presenting my research at the British Ecological Society and Société Française d’Ecologie 2014 Annual Meeting in France. I hope the skills, experience and qualification I gained through this course will open doors to my future career in evidence-based conservation.

'I would highly recommend this course to all current and future ecologists, environmentalists, naturalists and volunteers who want to turn their ecological stepping stones into corridors of knowledge, gain necessary skills and practical experience. I would also recommend this course to professionals who want to move from academia to industry and be engaged in on-the-ground conservation.'

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