The Journey So Far

Nearly six months ago (were does the time go?) I embarked on the greatest challenge of my life so far which was also the fulfillment of a childhood dream by starting MSc Taxonomy and Biodiversity awarded by Imperial College London but run by the Natural History Museum, London. I remember the first time I saw the course advertised, in 1998 when I was 15, in the back of an issue of New Scientist I was reading on my lunch break while I was studying for my A Levels. The course description was a veritable list of my favourite science and I made a plan finish my A Levels, get an undergraduate degree and apply.

Unfortunately things did not go to plan. Although I did not realise at the time, putting it down to teenage angst, I was terribly depressed, which, in retrospect was in part due to my social isolation and perfectionism, common difficulties for those with Asperger Syndrome. I did not do as well in my A Levels as I had planned, did not take up a place at university and spent a year working as a Product Group Consultant (a fancy name for a department manager) in a pet shop. An epiphany occurred when my Area Manager remarked I would make a good Assistant Manager one day, I was alarmed, I did not want to be a Manager, I wanted to be a Scientist! So I went back to university.

Ten years later, after two drop outs from full time university before finally finding my niche with The Open University, and a lot of pharmaceutical and psychological intervention, I graduated in 2011. What next? Was MSc Taxonomy and Biodiversity still the course for me? Would I cope with a life away from home and being skint? Only one way to find out.

So here I am, half way through a Masters in Science at my favourite place in the world, the Natural History Museum, London. So far I have been mostly:

  • Getting lost in the Museum
  • Walking into tourists while mesmerised at the beauty of the building
  • Getting lost in the Museum basement

Studying in the Museum has been everything I hoped it would be, I have seen amazing things, met and been lectured to by inspirational people whose names grace many of the books and papers I have collected over the years and eaten many yummy chocolate truffle muffins in the staff canteen. Some of the highlights, and the little things that have made it special so far:

  • Identifying and labeling Cambrian priapulid worms from the Chengjiang shales during palaeontology curation experience day
  • Getting into a lift in the Darwin Centre 2 accompanied by drawers of butterflies
  • Scanning Acridocarpus type specimens on botanical curation experience day
  • A scientist taking a short cut through the computer room holding two turtle carapaces
  • Gazing out of the window of the computing room to see a museum demonstrator dressed as Mary Anning crossing the yard in the snow
  • Holding a piece of fossil wood from the Terra Nova expedition
  • Seeing some of Hans Sloane’s botanical collections from the Caribbean in the historic botany department
  • Grubbing about in the Museum Garden discovering soil biodiversity and meeting the land amphipod Arcitalitrus dorrieni for the first time (a couple of days later I found it in my own garden in Portsmouth)

So far I do not feel I have excelled academically, although I am trying hard not to beat myself up about it because with the extra challenges of living independently and meeting new people I did not really expect too. Really I should be proud that I have got this far. My next challenge is to pass my exams next week so I really should get back to revision rather than blog writing!

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