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  • Writer's pictureJuniper

First job and taking days off

Updated: Mar 2, 2019

The 9 to 5 job description does not mean much to me - and all my former colleagues probably start nodding their heads.

My first 'proper' job was at CABI (Egham, UK) in 2013, one year before taking my A-levels in Hungary. I joined the Invasive Species Management team for 10 weeks and little did know how much it would change my career later on.

Working with biocontrols

I looked after hundreds of test plants in two greenhouses which were then used for testing arthropod or plant pathogenic biocontrol agents. I worked on the Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) project, looking after these highly invasive plants with the utmost care. We reared a smart little psyllid (Aphalara itadori) which laid eggs on the knotweeds and the nymphs ('larvae') destroyed the troublesome plants. The original findings and methods were published by Shaw et al. (2009).

The other main project focused on the aquatic fairy fern (Azolla filiculoides) and the continuous maintenance of its perfect biocontrol agent, the North American weevil Stenopelmus rufinasus. While the main risk of releasing classical biocontrol is the possibility of non-target feeding or any effects on native ecosystems, this little guy only wants Azolla. There were several ponds of Azolla floating on the surface and even though we had 'clean' ponds without the weevils on one side of CABI's property, the weevils always managed to get across from their own ponds. Very fine netting was used on top of the ponds to contain them but on sunny days (yes, that can happen in the UK), they would climb on the plastic side of the ponds and try their best to get out. These weevils can make a ten square meter pond turn from bright green to brown after feeding on it and destroying the invasive Azolla. CABI actually sells the weevils in 500 to 10,000 batches (if I remember correctly) which involved me sitting and counting these 2 mm long weevils for days - when large orders came in, it turned into a group project, often competing for cakes.

Pictures from CABI

I also worked with the troublesome Floating pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides) and Australian swamp stonecrop (Crassula helmsii) and their potential biocontrol agents, a weevil and a microscopic mite. I also looked after Bellyache bush plants (Jatropha gossypiifolia), wild ginger (Hedychium spp.), Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) and many native plants which were needed for tests.

You have to take a day off!

I was having the time of my life at CABI - testing just how smart these invasive species are and if their potential biocontrol agent is a bit smarter. Early morning, I went to do my rounds in the greenhouses and had to be present for strict tea time and lunch breaks. I was finishing around 6pm and then I went to my desk to hit the books for the upcoming A-levels. I managed to build up quite a lot of hours and I was first told to take off a day during the summer by my fantastic 'boss' and 'deputy boss', then department head followed by the director. When I said that I am not expecting to be 'paid hourly' and I am genuinely having fun - I might have been told that I will grow out of this phase... Anyway - I HAD TO take a day off.

I planned to go down to Eastbourne from Egham for one day, go for a walk on the coast and in the evening go to a Tchaikovsky concert on the beach and I would catch the last train back. Eastbourne was stunning and the concert was just lovely. I was sitting next to a group of older ladies armed with blankets and wine. At the end of the 1812 Overture, the fireworks' colours were reflected in the sea - perfect ending. Or. Maybe. Not.

Picture from VisitEngland

Somehow the concert finished an hour late and catching my breath at the trainstation the last train was leaving to Brighton which I thought would still get me slightly closer to Egham. In Brighton I showed up at a Travelodge in very short shorts, a camera and 3% charge remaining on my mobile phone. I had a great chat with the receptionist who told me that I was extremely lucky as they only have one more room left at 2 am. We started putting in my details and then he frowned. Someone booked that room online.

He was kind enough to look for other rooms around Brighton but literally - everything was taken in July. As I was thinking of being late to work if I do not get back in 6 hours, he told me to sit in the bar for a bit and I asked for a very large glass of Pinot Noir.

He waved at me and said to be quiet and come with him. He led me to a what looked like a storage room, with lots of shoes and he prepared a foldable bed for me. I had to leave by 4 am so the cleaners wouldn't see me. As my mobile was almost dead, I set an alarm for every 5 minutes, just to make sure I don't properly fall asleep. Just before 4 am, I signed an post card from Eastbourne and left a box of Kipling's bakewells as a thank you.

The first train towards London left around 5.30 am and it was strange that no one would sit in my proximity. But there was this smell. Like you get a whiff off after the garbage truck goes by. And yepp - that was coming from me, having soaked up the storage room scent. After a big shower and 1 liter of coffee I went to work strengthening my argument against taking days off.

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