Cristina Plant, BSc (Hons) Zoology, 2013

What are you doing now?

I've experienced a whirlwind of thrilling opportunities since graduating from the University of Derby in 2013. Not only have I gone on to complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Science Communication and Public Engagement, but I've also recently celebrated my second publication in this field. Alongside University of Derby Lecturer Ian Turner, I co-authored a pair of research papers. These explore use of TV show The Simpsons in teaching forensic handwriting analysis, as an example of how popular media can be a valuable tool for engaging students in science.

Currently, I am Chair of the British Science Association's Derbyshire Branch; I work with a fantastic group of volunteers to help bring science closer to the heart of our society and culture by providing public events and activities. This role has seen me do all sorts, from arranging a pub quiz to building edible DNA strands from sweets. It is certainly a lot of fun!

I have also been lucky enough to work with a fantastic array of organisations, including Derby Museums, the Edinburgh International Science Festival, National Museums Scotland and the National Stone Centre.

What were the main reasons you took BSc (Hons) Zoology?

Having always been fascinated by science, it felt natural to pursue an area of this at degree level. As an animal lover, I chose Zoology as a more unique slant on the traditional subject of Biology, and hoped that this would lead to a career that I could feel passionate about. Despite lacking specific career direction at the time of applying, I was also aware that a good, solid basis of scientific study would arm me with a wealth of valuable skills, such as communication, organisation and research.

Why did you choose to study the course at the University of Derby?

For me the University of Derby was ideal; it’s situated close to home and I already knew of people having excellent experiences there. Attending Open Days confirmed this choice for me by providing a remarkably warm and welcoming introduction to student life.

What impact has studying this course at Derby had on your career?

A varied assortment of modules on the Zoology course gave me an insight into many potential career paths, enabling me to choose a direction for myself. Since I graduated many doors have also been opened to me as a result of getting involved with the British Science Association, taking up research opportunities and networking, all of which were made possible by my time at the University of Derby.

How did the lecturers inspire you?

Their enthusiasm for the subjects taught on the Zoology course was infectious and has inspired me to continue learning throughout my life, whilst motivating me to share this enthusiasm with others via public engagement.

I was particularly inspired by the Science Communication module leader, Ian Turner, who encouraged us to see coursework as a real-world opportunity rather than just an academic assignment. This encouragement led to a plan for a 'Fairytale Science' event to be put into practice with the British Science Association; we delivered a successful local primary school event, in which children used DNA and forensics to help Prince Charming track down a missing Cinderella!

How do you feel the University has helped you in your career so far?

Signing up with the Student Employment Agency proved to be a big help in kick-starting my career, by providing incredibly varied opportunities to build confidence and develop a range of transferrable skills. Enrolling as a student ambassador and helping deliver University Open Days and campus tours has also helped me significantly, by aiding and somewhat inspiring my entry into the field of public engagement.

What are your future plans?

I look forward to seeking out yet more thrilling opportunities, as I continue and progress within the fields of science communication and more generalised public engagement. I also hope to continue my work with the British Science Association for the foreseeable future, where I aim to further grow our branch and make a sustainable contribution to the local community.

What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to study Zoology at the University of Derby?

Zoology is a fascinating subject to study, combining a rich history of scientific exploration with cutting-edge research that is relevant to all of our lives. The University of Derby Zoology course did not disappoint and I found the lecturers to be very friendly and supportive. University is what you make of it - with enthusiasm and dedication it can open up endless exciting opportunities.

Who are you still in touch with from the University of Derby?

Since graduating I have continued to work with lecturers and fellow students, both to organise British Science Association activities and publish research. Professor of Entomology, Karim Vahed, and I also still cross paths from time to time, in the course of my work for Derby Museums. Most importantly though I have built priceless friendships with fellow students, which I am certain will last a lifetime.