Page 68 - Fall2019
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Ask an Acoustician
animals are thought to be most sensitive to higher frequen- cies, the strongest response was observed when the noise was centered around the 1 kHz octave-band level. Although I recently moved back to the United Kingdom, I am still collaborating with Australia-based colleagues to learn more about the Swan River dolphins. However, I am also in the middle of launching new research projects examin- ing underwater soundscapes and marine megafauna in the United Kingdom.
Describe your career path.
I grew up watching dolphins and other marine life along the Scottish coast but never considered it a career option! A field trip while doing my undergraduate degree at the University of Aberdeen changed everything; not only did it give me my first experience on a boat and the chance to get close to dolphins, but it introduced me to staff working with these animals. This led to an Honors project and my first publication, followed by a MSc in marine mammal science at the University of St Andrews. I then traveled to Australia and spent a year volunteering on various ceta- cean research projects. This was when I became involved in underwater acoustics for the first time. I went on to do my PhD at the Centre for Marine Science and Technology (CMST), Curtin University, with Dr. Chandra Salgado Kent and Dr. Christine Erbe and was also fortunate enough to be involved with many other projects run by the CMST. After receiving my doctorate, I spent a year or so divid- ing my time between research projects and environmental consultancy. In August 2018, I moved back to the United Kingdom to begin a permanent faculty position with the University of Portsmouth as a lecturer in marine vertebrate zoology. I now have the pleasure of not only continuing my acoustics research but also sharing my knowledge and
enthusiasm with young scientists.
What is a typical day for you?
As a new faculty member, my time is divided between devel- oping teaching material, supervising students, continuing my own research, getting new research projects off the ground, and scientific service. Each week, I would say I typically spend about 1.5 days on research and the rest of the time on teaching and supervising research students. So far this year I have taught aspects of animal physiology, biodiversity and evolution, science outreach, statistics, and experimental biology. At the moment, I am developing some new lectures and practicals relating to bioacoustics for our undergraduate marine biology course, which is great fun!
I currently have four Honors, four master’s, and two PhD students who are working on projects related to underwater soundscapes, harbor seal behavior, cetacean habitat use, and shorebird occurrence. These projects are particularly excit- ing for me because they are all brand new. After moving to Portsmouth last year, a lot of my time was spent exploring the local area, finding out what wildlife was present, and who was already working on it; I was very cautious about stepping on toes! Fortunately, everyone has been very welcoming and happy to collaborate. So, I look forward to seeing how these projects develop.
At the same time, I am continuing several collaborations back in Australia on various marine megafauna and acoustics projects. Slightly trickier now that we are several time zones apart but worth it to keep working with such amazing people! And around all these exciting things, I am still managing to squeeze in some scientific service. I am blog editor for the Journal of Animal Ecology ( and associate editor for Austral Ecology, and I was on the media committee for the Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life conference that took place this past July in Den Haag (the Netherlands).
How do you feel when experiments or projects do not work out the way you expected them to?
Not great! I think it is inevitable that there will be some frustration when things do not go as expected. A lot of my research is field based, so you get used to the fact that many things are beyond your control during data collection. My master’s project was good training for this because everything went wrong! I was supposed to be observing gray seals at a haul-out site in Scotland. I had not realized that the site was also an unofficial nudist beach, which was of great surprise to both myself and the volunteer assisting me! Besides dodging nudists, we had various other misadventures. But the good thing about fieldwork is that it is typically a group activity and that means that there is always someone else there to share your pain and (eventually) laugh about it!
Do you feel like you have solved the work-life balance problem? Was it always this way?
Work in progress! I think one of the contributing factors to work-life imbalance is that doing a PhD creates some very bad habits. You are working on a single project that consumes your life for a long period of time. After finishing, you are so used to being obsessed with work that it becomes difficult to break the routine of working evenings and weekends. In fact, competitive academic environments can often make it worse.
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