Nathan enjoys a break from his PhD with an internship at the SAW Trust

Nathan McConnell, a student based at UEA, undertook his PIPS with SAW Trust. Nathan wanted the chance to improve his science communication skills, and after speaking to the SAW Trust at the PIPS Employer Forum, he set up his internship there. Nathan had felt frustrated with the progress of his PhD research since Covid pandemic so felt that the PIPS placement primarily represented a welcome break from his PhD. Nathan undertook his placement in his third year which for him, was not ideal timing but the Covid pandemic meant he was unable to do it sooner.

Nathan was involved in several activities during his placement. He participated in school visits to run a traditional SAW activity in conjunction with a JIC scientist, an artist and writer. Nathan also supported the SAW stand at the Norfolk Show. For this he developed an activity based on his own area of scientific interests, Entomology and taxonomic classification, specifically looking at the ecological role of dung beetles. Nathan was able to combine his artistic interests developing the activity and associate materials, such as a 2 kg clay model dung beetle, drawings and large banners. He really enjoyed engaging with the children visiting the stand and rose to the challenge of having to tailor his messages to members of public who were not initially interested or who had pre-formed ideas.

Nathan was also involved in designing a logo for the SAW stand at Latitude which focused on microplastics in the environment. He received constructive feedback on his design from external partners on the project including CEFAS and Precious Plastics East. “This process was also a challenge, but again rewarding. The cycle of redrawing and tweaking the logo to each of the collaborators’ satisfaction was at times frustrating, but I eventually created something i was proud of, reflects Nathan.” He enjoyed learning to use open source graphics software to develop the logo and felt more confident in being able to respond to the remits of others.
Nathan felt this was the area of his placement he got the most satisfaction from “Creating artwork for public events was not something I had done before. To see the artwork in the flesh and hearing what people said gave me more confidence to present things in the future”, says Nathan.

Nathan also wrote and illustrated a children’s book entitled ‘Disgusting Derek’ about a dung beetle to help convey information to a young audience. He produced all the illustrations himself and got feedback from a writer on the text. This work is now being taken forward with a local publisher!

Nathan also increased his knowledge in new subject areas. “Whilst on PIPS I created and participated in events outside of my subject area, such as plant disease and soil structure. Learning about these fascinating topics broadened my understanding of complex systems. Creating art and fun activities based around these topics required thinking laterally, which I really enjoyed”.