Written by Amber Wyard
“What made you switch from maths to biology? That’s such a big change!”
This is something that has been said to me hundreds of times. I never seem to know how to answer this as wildlife conservation has always been my passion and so for me there’s no surprise that this is where I’ve ended up. I just took a little longer to get there.
I grew up in North Wales, surrounded by nature and so predictably have always been obsessed with animals. I feel very lucky to have been able to experience wildlife from a young age. The earliest recollection I have of being completely entranced by nature was from when I was about 9 years old and watched a buzzard circling above a forest near my house. I stood there watching it circle for a while before it suddenly dropped down and came back up again having clearly caught its prey. I was fascinated. How could it see something so small from so far away and amongst all those trees? How did it catch it so quickly and which such precision?
Unsurprisingly, biology went on to be my favourite subject at school and I knew that I wanted to go on and study zoology at university. I finished my A levels and went on to start studying for a degree in zoology at a Liverpool John Moores University. But it didn’t work out. Having only just turned 18 and suddenly finding myself living in a city with complete strangers, I just couldn’t cope.
Mental health was something that, at the time, I knew very little about. I couldn’t understand why I was struggling so much and whilst everyone else seemed to be having the time of their lives, I couldn’t even leave my room. It turns out that I had an anxiety disorder, something that I hadn’t even heard of and it felt as though it was completely controlling me. After just over a month into my degree I made the decision to drop out and return to sixth form in order to try it all again. I thought that maybe it was the course and that I should try something different.
Maths was my best subject at school and people kept telling me that I was guaranteed a good job (and good money) with a maths degree so I went for it. It was a super scary decision to make and I was worried that everyone would just see me as a failure, but I felt like it was my only choice. I went back to sixth form, resat some A levels and tried some new ones, and got accepted to study mathematics at Aberystwyth University.
So, I completed my maths degree, somehow managed to get myself a 2:2 whilst pretty much hating my degree the whole time and graduated with no idea what I wanted to do next. The thought of pursuing any maths-related career seemed like the most boring thing in the world. I started to consider maybe doing a masters in mathematical biology as it was the topic that I enjoyed the most during my degree. Eventually, I realised that I just didn’t care about the maths side of things and just focused on biology. But would I be able to get onto any masters courses with a degree in maths? I would have missed out on so much.
After a lot of searching I came across a course called ‘Zoo Conservation Biology’ and it seemed perfect. It was at Manchester Metropolitan University and was in partnership with Chester Zoo, somewhere I had visited countless times ever since I was tiny. It was the perfect course. I sent my application and to my surprise I got in! I am currently about 8 months into my degree and absolutely loving it!
I’m finally where I’m supposed to be and it feels fantastic. I’m doing a course that I love and am actually doing well in. I definitely lack a lot of experience that my other people on my course have. I haven’t been abroad to volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary or been out in the field but I wasn’t as far behind with everything as I thought I would be. In a lot of ways my maths degree has helped massively when it comes to statistics and R, which means I can focus on all the interesting biology bits!
A few years ago, I could never have imagined where I’d be today. I’ve gone from biology to maths to biology again and although I definitely took the long way round to get to where I am, it was all worth it in the end. I wouldn’t change a thing.
I’ve learnt so much about myself on this journey and I’ve still got a long way to go. I hope that anyone reading this can see that you will always end up where you are meant to be no matter how long it takes you to get there. Just keep going.
For more of Amber, visit @amberwyard on Instagram