OPAL Senior Coordinator, Imperial College London
Dr Poppy Lakeman-Fraser works with OPAL's team at Imperial College and all the partner organisations across the UK to ensure teams have everything they need to deliver OPAL's work, as well as representing the project at conferences and events across Europe.
What does your job at OPAL involve?
My role at OPAL is a varied one. One day I could be in the London office answering email enquiries from the public about whether Tree Bumblebee colonies are found in garden nest boxes and the next day I could be with our Community Scientists at an agricultural show in North Scotland handling Leopard Slugs and showing them to visitors.
What did you study to become a scientist?
I was always interested in both the science and arts subjects at school so I decided to study biology, geography and art for my A-levels. I took a gap year gaining practical experience surveying coral reefs in Madagascar. This led me to follow my interest in the outdoor world and do a BSc in biology with oceanography at the National Oceanography Centre on the buzzing docks at the University of Southampton.
Then it was time for another gap year (always a good call) and I was lucky enough to do an internship with Royal Botanic Gardens Kew studying IUCN Red List species and worked as a Forestry Commission Ranger in the New Forest. I then studied for my PhD in Global Change Ecology at Imperial College London, although most of the fieldwork was conducted in New Zealand. Kia Ora!
Who inspired you to pursue a career in science?
Firstly (and perhaps a little clichéd), my parents. My dad was a wildlife film editor and used to let me help him chop and splice film reels together on his old-school editing machine. I still have memories of viewing incredible images of the Baka people in the rainforests of Cameroon and sand lizards in the Negev Desert all through old film reels. My mum is also responsible for dragging me out on rainy walks in the countryside and helping me to write the first word I ever remember spelling: butterfly.
Also I’d say my school biology teacher Mr Blades, who was always bringing biology alive with his bad jokes, such as:
Q: Why did the mushroom get invited to all the parties?
A: He was a fungi to be with!
What's the best bit about your job?
The people and the nature. Oh wait, that's two things. Okay, the interaction between the two then!
The staff who work at OPAL are such a pleasure to work with and so many interesting people who know so much about the environment represent OPAL. It's very inspirational working here.
And not forgetting, of course, the OPAL participants – both at events and through the internet – who I very much enjoy talking to about nature and who regularly contact us with interesting identifications, feedback and stories.
Oh yes, and occasionally I get to study Lepidoptera. Butterflies are great!
Which of your personal achievements are you most proud of?
I should probably say my PhD as that was my highest academic achievement and one which took a lot of perseverance. (Its tough doing fieldwork in beautiful New Zealand forest ecosystems, promise!) Thing is, I think I'm most proud of the journey. Each stage has been demanding in its own way, but I think in many cases, the more challenging a situation, the more rewarding it can be.
What advice would you give to people considering a career in science?
Follow your interests, get loads of practical (and perhaps voluntary) experience, think outside the box and persevere.