Tickets – check. Laptop – check. Coffee – check. Sense of excitement and slight intimidation – check.
It’s 7am and I’m at Ipswich station about to board a train to London Liverpool Street. For hundreds of commuters with whom I’m about to travel, today seems unremarkable. An overcast, still, coat on-coat off kind of a day, sandwiched between summer and autumn. From the end of the platform – a position that I’ve chosen to avoid the crush and to grab a half-bloggable selfie – I board the train. My mission: to find somewhere quiet, to get my laptop out and to address that lingering sense of excitement and intimidation.
My journey is simple until, that is, you view it in a broader context. Back in July 2015 I submitted a Partnership Grant application to the Royal Society alongside Dr Kathryn Ross, an ecological researcher at the British Trust for Ornithology. We were successful and we duly embarked upon a project to estimate population sizes of birds, small mammals and moths at Farlingaye High School, Suffolk, where I am a science teacher. We were delighted with how many students got involved, taking the opportunity to see these magnificent creatures up-close and, in the process, gaining experience in scientific research. In Feb 2017, I took a vibrant, enthusiastic group of students to a Royal Society Partnerships Grants Conference to share our findings. And here my journey took another turn.
Following the conference I was asked to provide an educational perspective about the illegal wildlife trade, an issue that is championed by the Royal Society. Happy to help, I received details of a meeting to be held at the Royal Society on the 27th September – today. The list of attendees hit my inbox with a thud. Wow. Professors, Doctors, Fellows, CEOs, Directors, Ambassadors and, um, me. What on Earth was I going to bring to the party? At this point, some words that I impart to my students resonate: ‘I want you to be adventurous’. A different sentiment could be attributed to my enthusiasm for song-writing: write about what you know. In this case, teaching teenagers. And so I open my laptop and fine-tune my ideas about how awareness of the illegal wildlife trade might be promoted in schools.
It turns out that my excitement but not sense of intimidation is justified. Everyone is warm and welcoming, and the conversation is rich and satisfying. The meeting centres on how science and technology might be used to tackle the illegal wildlife trade. Among the multitude of ideas are ones put forward by me, focusing on raising awareness with young people both at home and overseas. After a couple of hours, the meeting draws to a close. I pause to remind myself of the romance of it all. The prestigious setting, the esteemed company, the sense of having contributed something different and worthwhile, and the journey – from a Partnership Grant application to policy-based discussions at the Royal Society.