St George’s Bickley Primary School 1974-1982; St Dunstan’s College Catford 1982-1989, Brunel University 1989-1993, Royal Holloway University of London 1996-2001,
8 O-levels, 3 A-levels, BSc (Psychology), PhD in Animal Behaviour
I’ve worked all over, little bits in Germany, Namibia, South Africa, USA, a few years in Sweden and now in Wales UK
I teach and do research in animal behaviour at Aberystwyth University – I #LoveAber :-)
Favourite thing to do in my job Looking at the amazing patterns a bird’s song makes on a computer
I’m a dreamer who does science plus I like baking when it’s raining and walking when it’s sunning
I was brought up in south London on the edge of Kent. I didn’t study biology at school but got interested in it at university while I was studying psychology. Then I discovered that studying animal behaviour was a real scientific thing – and I stuck with it. I’ve moved around quite a lot to keep working in the field. I live in Shrewsbury now – not far from where Charles Darwin was born and went to school – his school is now the town library. I like to relax in the garden – we have great sunsets
I don’t have a TV but I do have a log fire which is cosy in the evening. Ok, I do watch some TV on my laptop – how I could I miss the amazing David Attenborough’s programmes?. I’m also a fan of Strictly and the Great British Bake Off. I used to do ballroom dancing but haven’t since I lived in Sweden – yes I lived there for 2 1/2 years and loved it! I still speak Swedish (it’s a bit rusty). I’ve worked all over the place really, in Scotland, Wales, Germany, USA, Namibia & South Africa. As an animal behaviour scientist I follow the animals.
I teach animal behaviour to my amazing students and when I’m not teaching I find out how and why birds sing
I teach Animal Behaviour in sunny Aberystwyth on the west coast of Wales . It’s a beautiful place: you can see dolphins in the bay, there’s a family of otters under the bridge in the marina and even pine martens that live in nearby woodlands. I have some great students and especially enjoy our field course when we go away for a week to study animals in the wild
When teaching stops and summer starts I head to the sunny Scottish islands. Their beaches are amazing and the birds I study sing near the top of the dunes. One beach is even an airport! I walk or drive around the coastal meadows listening out for my birds singing and then record them . When I record them I watch what they are singing. We call this “sound picture” a sonogram. It shows the very precise nature of a bird’s song
I ask questions about why birds sing, how they sing and what effect we humans are having. Some common birds like garden great tits sing at a higher pitch in noisy areas than in the quiet countryside. We think this is because they can’t hear their songs at low pitches because of all the noise. The odd thing is that now city birds don’t seem to answer the song of country birds – are they forgetting they are the same species? I aim to find out!
Scientists do more than just experiments. We teach, think, plan, supervise junior scientists like PhD students and read. And send lots of emails. My day starts on the train to work, reading scientific articles or marking student work on my laptop. It’s a nice time to get lots done without any interruptions. When I get to the office I’ll buy a coffee from a campus café – it has a clock with no numbers but the letters “Aberystwyth” instead. Then head to the office to prepare for my first lecture. After the lecture I’ll chat with students before working in my office on student exchanges – I am in charge of our exchange programme which lets our students study abroad in their 2nd year and allows students from abroad come study with us. Sometimes I’ll be asked to do an interview for radio or very occasionally TV. In the afternoon I might meet with my final year students and talk about their research projects. I sometimes sneak a quick visit to the aquarium to visit the fish and any students I have working there. And I’ll try to squeeze in some song analysis – songs are beautiful when you look at a picture of them. Eventually I’ll head back to the station and perhaps plan some new experiments on the way home.
What I'd do with the money
I would develop a simple free fun game app for phones and computers that helps people learn why birds sing and how it evolves. I’d give the rest of the cash to an orphanage in Kenya set up by a student who lives on the Scottish island where I record my corn buntings, to help them teach science.
I would develop a simple fun game for phones and computers that helps people realise why birds sing and all the things they need to juggle: getting enough energy, singing enough to keep their mate interested, defending their nesting area from intruders. Players have to keep their bird fed, singing and on the lookout. Could you manage? Vote for me and you can have a go!
If there is money left over I would donate it to the St Jerome’s Children’s Home in Kenya to help them teach science to the children who live there. It was started by a teenager from the Scottish island of South Uist. She wanted to do something about the suffering that she saw there when she was on a school trip. So she came home, raised money, went back out and built an orphanage. An amazing person, it shows how much good can be done by each of us. http://stjeromescentre.org.uk/
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Helpful, smiling, shy
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Helped my students discover what they can do as scientists – and then see them do it
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
A BBC programme about the people who discovered the structure of DNA. It seemed such fun, an adventure to find out new things, being paid to keep asking why and how. Then I had an amazing enthusiastic lecturer at university.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
My lawyer says I shouldn’t say…
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
Maybe a writer – I’m writing a book at the moment. Or a psychologist. I have a couch and the right degree, so I could sit back and listen over tea.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Machine Gun Kelly
What's your favourite food?
Pizza! But not tooo spicey
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Swam in a crystal sea with white sandy beach and seabirds diving around me – in Scotland!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Fall in love. Win a million. Be on Strictly.
Tell us a joke.
What did the frog say to his surprise guest? “You made me jump!”
My favourite bird, the corn bunting.
This is me trying to record one.
It has a beautiful song to listen to and to see! This one shows time left to right and pitch from low at the bottom to high at the top – look how detailed it is.
This is what it looks like on my laptop when I’m recording – they sing very regularly, every 5 seconds or so
And this is a short Youtube video of a corn bunting singing – it’s a bit fuzzy as it was a hot day and I had the camera propped up by biscuits on the mirror and window of my car….
After work in Aberystwyth I walk along the prom, gazing out to sea, trying to spot the dolphins
And it’s not just me – my students like Aberystwyth too. Here’s what they say