Mature student Louise Sinnock is studying for a degree in environmental science. Louise gave up her job as a veterinary nurse to pursue her ambition to learn more about the natural world. She took five minutes out of her day to talk to Communications Officer, Linden Kemkaran, about how meeting with an NRI programme leader led to her returning to study, getting her mojo back and why it’s never too late…
"I loved veterinary nursing but the thrill had gone. Every day was the same; running the nurse clinics, weighing the animals, booking appointments. It had become more of an administrative role and I felt I needed something to change. I’ve got three young sons aged 10, 8 and 4 and I was thinking - is this all I’m ever going to do? Get up, go to work in a job where I feel unfulfilled, then come home and be mum, which is amazing don’t get me wrong – being a mum is the best part of my life – but I wanted to do something for me.
I searched online for courses and I found out who the programme leader was for the University of Greenwich environmental science degree and I emailed him directly. Dr Peter Burt, Principal Scientist in NRI’s Agriculture, Health and Environment Department invited me to come and see him and we talked for a bit and I realised I could study for a degree full time. It’s never too late to change direction in life so I just did it!
Dr Burt is now my tutor and is incredibly helpful and supportive of my studies, as is everyone at the University. In my first year as an undergraduate, I did an internship at NRI and worked with PhD students and NRI researchers who study crop pests and vector roles within malaria transmission, and I finally worked out where I see myself in the future.
I’ve always been passionate about the natural world and from a very young age I was obsessed with animals; I’d watch endless documentaries. The environmental science degree is perfect as it has a bit of everything. We look at geographical and biological subjects or natural processes, from weather systems, environmental change and geology, to evolution and ecology and how it all interlinks and has an impact overall. I’m currently doing a project in environmental archaeology, looking at how evidence found today can tell us about past societies and their interactions and impact within the environment.
My family have always known me as the “animal girl” but now they come to me as a source of knowledge for many other things too which is really nice. Studying actually complements motherhood as the little games or tasks we do in lectures to help understand complicated statistics for example, I then use at home to help my kids understand maths homework.
How do I make it all work? Well, I have lots of help with the kids and the University is very understanding. This term none of my lectures start before 10am which means that I can do the school drop-off, and the days that I can’t do the pick-up, the boys go to after-school clubs or their grandma collects them.
When I get home it’s full on with dinner, making packed lunches, homework, cleaning the house etc, so I’ve become disciplined: once the boys are in bed, instead of reading a book or zoning out in front of the TV, that’s my time to really focus and study and I have to be realistic, even if it’s just an hour each night, it’s all adding up.
I also prioritise one day each weekend to study, and a day to be with the family; I micro-manage my time. I have a timetable stuck to the fridge and I adhere to it rigidly. But because I love the subject, it’s never something that I dread. I’m always happy to talk honestly about how I manage it all as it’s important that parents – mums in particular – realise that having children doesn’t necessarily stop you from studying.
Now in my second year, the deadlines are closer together and the topics more in-depth, so I’ve had to readjust a bit. I’m using my knowledge and experience of the mosquito’s role in malaria transmission that I gained through my internship at NRI, to help me finalise my dissertation. After that I’d like to pursue a PhD and then go into research.
I’ve tracked orangutans in Borneo and helped elephant and rhino conservation in Zimbabwe. I went to Peru last year and did a volunteer project in the Amazon. I’m going back to Africa this year to a chimpanzee rehabilitation centre but I want to combine it with a research visit to communities affected by malaria and gather data for my dissertation, looking at how animals, people, pathogens and the environment all play a part.
My advice is, if you’ve got a passion in life, then follow it. It’s one thing looking online for degrees and jobs, but talking directly to Dr Peter Burt was crucial in establishing if I was right for the degree, and if the degree was right for me. He also saved me time by taking into account my ‘real-world’ experience working at the vet’s surgery and all the conservation work I’d done, negating the need to do an access course.My only regret is that I didn’t make the move sooner.
Doing this degree has given me, ‘me’ back. I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s transformed my life. It’s never just another boring day at work; I’m devouring scientific papers and journals and I can start new conversations by saying “did you know this?” I’m constantly learning, and it makes me feel I always have something interesting to say!"
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