Although sitting in hides, braving the elements, and watching seals (and deer) whilst eating copious amounts of chocolate is our bread-and-butter, fieldwork comes at a price. Post-field season the lab becomes our second home as we bury ourselves in data analysis. For the past couple of weeks, however, the lab’s had the chance to get out and about for conference season.
Apart from the marine mammal conference in New Zealand earlier this year (which you can read more about in a previous post by Amy B) , researchers in the lab got to attend some conferences a little closer to home – namely the UK Regional Student Chapter for the Society of Marine Mammalogy conference (UKRSC SMM) and the Mammal Society‘s Easter conference.
UKRSC Conference St. Andrews
Amy B, James and I headed up to St Andrews for the UKRSC SMM conference, where Amy presented her fascinating work with the seismic kit, “Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys” (titles don’t get much better than that), telling us all about her most recent field season at Donna Nook; James gave a talk entitled “Seals don’t like salt water!” based on his Masters project (more details to come soon); and I got to give my first speed presentation – a “quick-and-dirty” overview of my work with the heart rate monitors on the Isle of May. Sean also joined us on the last day to give the plenary lecture about “Being Individual”, reiterating the value of long-term behavioural studies that focus on individual variation within populations. It was great to hear talks not only from Amy B and James, but also from fellow postgraduate students, showcasing the breadth of projects all across the UK.
There were also a number of interesting workshops – one workshop on grant proposal writing had us thrown into a “sandpit” (not literally, of course), in which we were split into groups and given 20 minutes to prepare a 5-minute pitch for any marine mammal-related project we could care to conceive. With theoretically unlimited funding on offer, the sky was the limit, but it was still a heinously difficult exercise in collaborative and innovative thinking (the term “Robo-Seal” may have popped up once or twice).
All in all, it was a great experience (I have Amy B to thank for giving me that big shove out the lab door and onto the podium) – student conferences are a great arena for postgraduates (and keen undergraduates) to practise and learn key skills, share ideas, and start building up those all-important networks.
Until next time!
Mammal Society Easter Conference
Sometimes it is nice, and arguably necessary, to gain a broader perspective from the marine mammal world—or whatever the focus of your academic research is. While catching up with like-minded individuals who are also working on similar systems can be helpful; learning from other disciplines, other systems, or other species can be just as enlightening and keep the creative juices flowing. If nothing else it does tend to give you a sense of ‘seeing the forest for the trees’!
So after saying goodbye to our friends in the North, Hagen and I headed south to Birmingham to the Mammal Society’s Easter conference. Just like going to broader animal behaviour conferences helps to ground us in the theories and evolutionary significance of our work; going to the mammal society’s conference gave us the chance to explore skills, protocols and methods of learning about or tracking elusive animals. Talks ranged from the usage of camera traps to estimate population abundances; the science and politics of badger culls as an option for controlling bovine TB; and the ecology of all sizes of animals from lions in Africa to dormice in Wales.
The first day of the conference set aside for student talks. Hagen presented his recent work investigating habitat usage and the potential influences of tourism on deer behaviours; and I spoke again about investigating the message of the grey seal body slap with the seismic kit. In the afternoon, we both had the opportunity to attend various workshops with topics ranging from how to study small mammals; how to study marine mammals (we really can’t get away from them!); how to engage the public about science; and where to go next in our careers (e.g. jobs in environmental consultancy vs. academia).
For the next two days, we attended the Easter Conference where academics, ecological consultants, environmental NGOs and Wildlife Trust members alike came together to share their work, efforts and passion for conserving and understanding mammal populations.
Conferences are hard work, leading up to and during; for the seal-deer-crew the time back in the office might be a bit of a welcome rest. But it won’t be for long! In just a few weeks Hagen is heading back out to Ulva for another round of fieldwork! Check back to hear more from him soon!