Louise: Work Placement in Belgium

I study Zoology and I’m particularly interested in how art can encourage environmental awareness, influence change and deepen appreciation for the natural world. Due to my interests, I sought a placement in the science communication department of Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) in Belgium.

My experience within the communication department allowed me to explore different avenues of the biological world, by working closely alongside the data, policy and infrastructure departments and aiding on a research vessel.

Our job was to distribute research out to the broader public that is produced within and in collaboration with VLIZ. This was achieved through publications and conferences, but also through school education, public events and art expositions, that empower citizens to take a direct and sustainable approach towards living on a healthy planet.

During the year, I concentrated on European jellyfish species. My research involved carrying out a thorough literature review and citizen science project for the European Union project ‘Sea Change’. It explored jellyfish life histories and how human activities can impact these, as well as how these play a vital role in the stinging mechanisms and toxicity of jellyfish species. This allowed me to eventually establish a stinging protocol to be distributed across Europe. Prior to this, only misleading and contradictory information was available. My research also involved expanding the international databases of the World Register for Marine Species (WoRMS) and European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet), on jellyfish traits.

Following my research, VLIZ enabled me to publish my work in the Open Access Journal, Marine Drugs, and present my conclusions at the International Jellyfish Bloom Symposium in Barcelona to a panel of experts. I was also requested to produce a number of nature magazine and newspaper articles, create info-graphics, and handle national and international press releases on my research in the run-up to the summer months, in order to alert the general public on the hazards, avoidance and treatment of jellyfish stings. 

Through all of these opportunities and my experiences on the research vessel, my time in Belgium allowed me to enhance my knowledge, expertise and skill set, while implementing everything I had been taught at university into practical situations"My time in Belgium allowed me to enhance my knowledge, expertise and skill set, while implementing everything I had been taught at university into practical situations". Working alongside like-mind professionals allowed me to utilise their experience to progress academically, it also highlighted the importance of networking and communicating with professionals and the public, on both a local and international scale.

Although at times I felt l felt like I was treading water, my work placement year allowed me to grow in a way that was not possible at university — and has set me up well for future job prospects.

 Working at VLIZ not only allowed me to develop on a professional level, but also on a personal level, as a result of living abroad and experiencing other cultures. I certainly learnt a lot and was offered endless opportunities to develop myself and make the most of my time there due to the supportive network around me.