Meet Fallon at the University of Glasgow!

Name: Fallon Irvine-Smith
Nationality: South African
University: University of Glasgow
Degree: Zoology BSc Honors
Current Year of Study: Second year


10 Questions:

How did you choose your university destination and course of study?

I lived in France from 2019 until I started at Glasgow, and one of the reasons I chose to study in the UK was because they have so many niche, specific courses, whereas in France it’s much more general. I didn’t really know anything about UK universities so when I started looking at UCAS, I favorited courses that interested me and when I looked further into the University of Glasgow’s zoology course, I loved the description of what we’d study, especially in the higher years where it becomes less general.

I think I always wanted to study something nature – or animal-related – but that was solidified when I did biology at A Level and my favorite sections were the ecology ones. I grew up in South Africa so I had the luxury of having the Kruger National Park nearby and I realised that I’d like to work as a field guide on a game reserve, so zoology is the perfect course, especially as we get to go to Kenya (or Egypt) in 4th year!

As for Scotland as a whole, it has always fascinated me – its mysticism, magic, ancient tales, eerie natural beauty and witchy atmosphere. My dad’s side of the family is not so distantly Scottish, so my granny would always talk about places like the Isle of Skye and Edinburgh. Also, films & series like the famous Outlander (I confess I’m a superfan) definitely add to that mystical & wild image. I also loved the idea of gothic architecture and “ancientness” that is Glasgow and Edinburgh. Plus, it helped that Sarah herself knows Glasgow and the university! She was a big factor in my decision.

U of G also has a great reputation and ranking, especially for my course.

What have been the highlights of your academic programme so far?

  • Environmental Biology lectures in 1st year by Dr Oskar Brattström, Dr Bryan McKinnon, Dr Stewart White & Dr Sophie Spatharis
  • In 2nd year we have some cool courses and sections of courses, which include fieldwork and labs, especially in semester 2 when we have our obligatory course for zoology, called Animal Biology, Evolution and Ecology. Some examples of these labs & fieldwork include fishery-driven evolution and animal diversity
  • The Hunterian Zoology Museum in the university – naturally, as a zoology student, it’s one of my favourite parts of the uni and we’ve already done some labs in there, which I loved. We also did a lab in the botanical gardens which was really cool.
  • Attending talks given by researchers, external lecturers and people from organisations in the field – sometimes followed by cheese & wine in the Zoology museum.
  • The many opportunities around me, including the Exploration Society, which has been running for almost a century. It’s described as: “The Exploration Society supports teams of University of Glasgow students as they explore the world on zoological, geographical and marine expeditions. Over the past 90 years, hundreds of students have had the chance to undertake research in countries like Trinidad, Tobago, Egypt, Guyana, Sri Lanka, Iceland and Scotland. Expedition teams carry out research for 4th-year Honours and Masters projects.” The expeditions can last for up to 9 weeks I believe, and I plan on applying to go at the end of my 3rd year.
  • I’ve heard really great things about the Zoology department and the staff and management, and I can attest to the fact that the uni as a whole is pretty supportive about mental health

What do you enjoy most about living in Glasgow?

  • It’s so lively
  • The interesting architecture
  • The not-so-hidden gems of nature and greenery, with parks like Kelvingrove, and the Botanical gardens – both in the west end. Nature is never far away in Scotland.
  • There’s no shortage of museums and galleries… for example Kelvingrove museum (It’s huge! There is so much to see, so many sections), and the other museums that I still have yet to explore, like the Hunterian Museum in the university.
  • Art, culture, music… There’s truly something for everyone. A gem I found is An Dannsa Dub, described as “future dub from ancient Scotland.” It’s a “6 piece live band that fuses the mystical energy and instruments of traditional Scottish music and Gaelic song with the heavy, meditative, driving bass lines digital dub music.” Their associated sound systems and production teams, as well as another well-known Glaswegian artist, Mungo’s HiFi, are really special and fun. There are many smaller experimental parties / events too, I love them.
  • The proximity to Edinburgh, one of the world’s most iconic cities! It’s an hour away by bus, which is regular and is free if you have the Young Scot card, which is super easy to get
  • The Young Scot card !
  • Good nightlife – I love reggae+dub, jungle, techno, etc – events are well-promoted on posters around the city and apps / blogs like RA guide (Resident Advisor), Fatsoma and Skiddle are very helpful
  • People are chatty and friendly – it’s true what they say! There’s always help nearby, and some interesting characters – people are funny

How supportive is your university to international students?

I would say, very – there seems to be a lot of support and things to do for international students to meet other international students and get to know the city and the uni. I believe there are also accommodations that are “known” as international student accommodations. However, I didn’t end up attending any of the International Student events (0f which there were many, judging from my emails). I didn’t have the experience that some other international students had: I’d experienced the UK before.

What have been 3 of the main challenges you have faced during your time at university?

  • Overwhelm (you have everything at your fingertips, so many opportunities, and work !), and knowing how to manage my time and know how much work is enough… I think every student struggles with this and even after graduating, still hasn’t quite figured it out! But I’m also someone who wants too many things…
  • Mental health challenges which led me to take a year out mid-November to take a break, and return to 2nd year in September
  • My long distance relationship: this year my boyfriend started studying in France… as you may know, international fees don’t come cheap, and so it made sense for him to stay in France for uni. What with his short holidays, our mismatch of holidays and the lack of many flight options between Glasgow and Toulouse, there are quite a few obstacles and limitations, but we make it work !

What activities are you involved in outside of your academic programme?

  • Clubs / societies. There are societies for everyone, and I mean EVERYONE. Hundreds of them. There’s even a Harry Potter Society, and some pretty surprising ones like the psychedelic research society and cannabis society. Yes, they are official societies, or are in the process of becoming official. There was also a murder mystery society. Some of the ones I joined were the walking society, the wild swimming society (aka the polar bear club), the surf society (surprising in Scotland, I know !), zoology society and the mountaineering society. That sounds like way too many but you can choose when to go to which events / socials, and you can even just go to the socials if you want to meet people! I’d also like to join the kayaking society… I guess I’ll have some decisions to make
  • Volunteering – before I took my break, I was volunteering with an organisation called Community InfoSource, specifically with the Wellbeing Project to help teach English to asylum seekers in Glasgow and make them feel more comfortable in their new surroundings
  • Exploring the city, country, events, arts, culture, music and nature
  • Sport: There are also tons of sports clubs, as well as classes that you can book at the uni gym, like yoga and pilates, which I did a bit of, and quite a bit more than that. When I return to uni I’d like to join the netball club or do dancing – lots of different types are offered as part of the dance society

How easy is it to find accommodation? Can you describe your living arrangements?

While I didn’t struggle too much to find accommodation, I do know that it is limited in Glasgow and can cause some stress, especially in first year when you need to “get a group together” (don’t worry, even if you don’t, there are plenty people looking for accommodation – SpareRoom is useful) so the sooner you arrange it, the better.

Do you think your university experience is preparing you well for the working world and do they offer support with finding jobs and internships?

Absolutely, yes. Of course I can only speak for MVLS (Medicine, Veterinary and Life Sciences) and, more specifically, the Zoology department, but yes. From first year, we are given career talks / CV writing tutorials, and made aware of career prospects and relevant organizations for each degree group. There are talks (especially if you join the zoology society! Or any society related to your interests I assume) and resources if you look (and not hard). There are so many opportunities to get experience, and I’ve learnt that if you want, ask, and you’ll get rewarded. There are also career fairs, and a whole careers / opportunities portal for students.

What opportunities have you had to travel and explore during weekends and vacations?

Lots… too many. If, unlike me, you manage your time well, you can take a bus to a different place each weekend if you want! With the Young Scot card, you have no excuse not to! Sometimes bus travel may not be 100% free, but it may as well be – once I went to Inverness with some friends, and those of us who had the cards paid £1 instead of £25 for the bus ticket, because for that bus we had to buy tickets – but often you don’t. Also, as mentioned above, there are more than enough societies for exploring, and more than enough weekly trips! A great way to meet people.

Like I said, I’m not great with managing my time (and I’m not a morning person…) so I’ve had plenty of opportunities but not too many experiences yet… something I plan to change when I return to uni in September. I did however go on a trip to the Isle of Arran (highly recommend!) after hearing about it on Facebook – I’m part of the Zoology society – another tip, join the Facebook groups and any group chats! This trip was a kind of collaboration between the immunology society and zoology society. You don’t even have to be part of an “exploring” society to go on these trips!

What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would offer an international student thinking of coming to Glasgow and Scotland to study?

  • Think about the weather, but don’t let it put you off – make sure you have warm and rain-resistant clothing! Hiking boots will serve you well too
  • If you like both nature and city life, it’s the place for you. The highlands aren’t too difficult to get to. And, much more locally is Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Edinburgh is super close too
  • Make sure you know what to expect with the accents! It might take a while to get used to and understand those Glaswegian accents.

Find out more on the links below

The University of Glasgow

Instagram: @fallooooon 

Snapchat: fallon.greer 

Kingussie, Highlands, December 2023
Little excursion to Duck Bay at Loch Lomond with friends in October. I swam. I froze. It was magnificent.
Swimming in Loch Lomond
The first dusting of snow
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