By Emily O’Regan, UK Young Scientist of the Year 2013. Emily is currently studying at Bangor University and won the National Science + Engineering Competition in March last year with her project on flamingo breeding.
For me, it has been quite a hectic year. I won UK Young Scientist of the Year 2013 , travelled half way across the world to volunteer, and moved 250 miles away from home to start university.
Going to the National Finals of the National Science + Engineering Competition at The Big Bang Fair last year was a fantastic experience; the atmosphere was buzzing with excitement and interest. It felt amazing that I was through to the Finals presenting my work, and although that was an entire year ago, it still feels like it was only yesterday!
Winning UK Young Scientist of the Year 2013 is the one of the biggest achievements of my life, and I am very proud of that. It has given me so many opportunities and allowed me to meet some fantastic people and visit amazing places.
Life after the Finals
I used the prize money from the award to help cover a four-week volunteering trip to Mexico, where I worked at a biological research station. Stationed on the west coast of Mexico, and living in a small wooden cabin on the beach, I faced hurricanes, tropical storms, snakes, scorpions and mosquitos. The mosquitoes were definitely my biggest problem; as I found out after a lot of swelling, blisters, an awkward visit to a Mexican doctor and a rather unfortunate injection, that I am incredibly allergic to them! Despite all of that, I can positively say that it was the best trip I have ever been on and I thoroughly enjoyed the work I did there.
During my time in Mexico, I went on beach patrol during the night to collect turtle eggs and safely rebury them; protecting them from poachers and predation. I also worked on a crocodile farm, handling hatchlings and cleaning enclosures. Biodiversity surveys, bird identification and camp maintenance were also part of my role.
Becoming a student
Starting university was another landmark event in my life within the last year. I decided that I wanted to move away from home, so that I could be completely independent whilst I was studying. I now live in North Wales, where I am studying Zoology with Conservation at Bangor University. Through the university I have recently become a qualified Marine Mammal Surveyor with ORCA, and I have started volunteering with the SeaWatch Foundation where I am involved with cetacean surveying.
I’ve been involved in quite a range of events over the last year: presenting award ceremonies, talking to children in a primary school, visiting CERN in Geneva, attending events at Parliament and giving a speech at the opening of the British Science Festival  to name a few. They’ve all been fantastic experiences, and I am very grateful I had the opportunity to be involved.
One year on
I can’t wait to be at The Big Bang Fair 2014. It will be a fantastic opportunity to learn about the latest advancements in science and engineering from the academics and businesses that are displaying there.
I am also looking forward to seeing the entries that made it through to the National Finals for the Competition this year. As ever, I know the standard will be very high, and the incredible diversity of projects is always interesting to see. Also, it will be nice to be part of the team looking after this year’s finalists that only last year were looking after me!
As for passing on the baton to this year’s winner, I have mixed emotions, but I am genuinely excited that somebody else is going to have all the same wonderful opportunities that I was presented with, and I really hope they will make the most of that.
With the danger of sounding cliché, winning a title like this, and all of the opportunities that come along with it, really does change your life. It does, however, feel like an end to a chapter for me, but that means I can start a new one. I am very grateful for all of the fantastic opportunities I have had and all of my experiences through the National Science + Engineering Competition and the British Science Association.