Thank you so much for a great event!
Sutton Park School, primary and secondary (1995-2008), Trinity College Dublin, Zoology degree (2008-2012), Trinity College Dublin, Zoology PhD (2012-now)
I have a Zoology degree from Trinity College Dublin (B.A. Mod.). I’m currently in the second year of my PhD in Zoology with the plan of finishing in 2015 – then I can put Dr. in front of my name :)
I’ve worked in labs at Trinity; a genetics lab studying cow DNA and a neuroscience (brain studies) lab which works with fruit flies – so I know how to dissect a fly’s brain! I also worked at the University of Cambridge for a summer studying how the eyespots on butterflies’s wings help them to scare away bird predators.
I’m a PhD student in the Zoology department at Trinity which means that I am doing my own research project under the guidance of my supervisor. It’s a great job because you can decide what you want to do and there’s plenty of time to help out with teaching while still being a student yourself.
The Zoology Department in Trinity College. My PhD research is funded by a scholarship from the Irish Research Council
Favourite thing to do in science: I’ve always been fascinated by the incredible, beautiful diversity of the natural world. I love finding out new facts about how animals work and trying to figure out why they have evolved to be the way they are.
I study weird mammals from Madagascar called tenrecs which look like shrews and hedgehogs but are actually more closely related to elephants!
I’m interested in the ecology and evolution of animals; where they live and what makes them the way they are today.
Tenrecs are a weird family of mammals from Madagascar. They have lots of quirky traits including one species which holds the record for most babies produced by any mammal (up to 32 in one litter!) and another species that uses specialised spines on their backs to make sounds (see them in action here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9kJKu4cpXM). Tenrecs look like other more familiar animals such as moles, shrews, hedgehogs and otters. But tenrecs are actually more closely related to elephants and aardvarks than they are to shrews or hedgehogs!
I’m interested in studying why tenrecs have evolved to be so similar to other species which are only very distant relatives. I measure the physical similarities among tenrecs and other mammals and to find out whether animals that look alike also tend to live in similar environments. These questions will help me to figure out why tenrecs have evolved to be so diverse and why they are so unlike their close relatives.
To study physical similarities among tenrecs and other mammals I take measurements and photographs of museum specimens. This means spending a lot of time working with collections of dead animals – but they’re usually kept in some pretty interesting museums so there are lots of perks from traveling between different cities. I’m also hoping to travel to Madagascar next year to study some tenrecs in the wild so that won’t be too bad either…
My Typical Day
An interesting mix of reading papers, writing articles, analysing data, discussing wacky science ideas and then a spot of dancing in the evening :)
One of the best things about doing a PhD is that you’re in charge of how to spend your time and free to mix together lots of different activities. If I’m in the Department, a typical day might include reading scientific papers, meeting with other students and staff to discuss new research projects, working as a demonstrator in an undergraduate practical class and analysing my own data using computer statistics programs. I also enjoy writing articles for our department’s blog http://www.ecoevoblog.com/ and a “weird and wonderful animal” series for science spin magazine http://www.sciencespin.com/.
I work in an office with four other PhD students and am lucky to be in a very friendly department where everyone helps with each others’ work and makes plenty of time for trips to the pub. I’m usually in the office from around 9 to 6 and then evenings are spent catching up with friends, swimming or dancing!
This year I’ve also spent a lot of time away from Trinity working at various natural history museums in the UK and USA. Then I spend my days measuring and photographing the skulls, limbs and skins of small mammals while evenings and weekends are free for exploring beautiful cities, or, in the case of New York and London, going to see as many musicals as I possibly can!
What I'd do with the money
I would give it to our Department’s Zoology museum to help improve the visitor experience for school students and members of the public.
The Zoology Museum in Trinity is over 200 years old and has lots of unique specimens. Although it’s mainly used for teaching undergraduates as well as Transition Year students during their work experience placements, the museum was also recently opened to the public. I worked as a museum guide over the summer and had a great time telling visitors about the history of the museum and the stories behind some of the animal specimens. We also opened the museum recently for both Culture Night and Discover Research Night, each of which attracted a large audience of people interested in animals, evolution and our current research into topics as diverse as computer models of how Tyrannosaurus rex hunted and identifying new bird species in Indonesia.
If I win, I will use the money to improve the museum so that students and guests could come and enjoy a better experience during their visit. This might include new displays about the museum’s history and a booklet guide to the museum with interesting facts about the animals in the collection.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Enthusiastic, curious and obsessed with musicals – okay it’s not three words but it’s true!
Who is your favourite singer or band?
It’s far too tricky to pick just one! I love all kinds of musicals; from Singing in the Rain to Les Miserables and everything in between so my iPod is mainly full of show tunes. After that it’s a whole mix of things from Adele and Jamie Cullum to Johnny Cash and the Eagles. And of course it’s no surprise that I’m a Gleek…
What's your favourite food?
Galaxy ripple chocolate bars – mmmm
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Wearing a sparkly leotard to dance at the opening of the Irish Film and Television Awards was pretty fun – I felt like a proper Vegas showgirl!
What did you want to be after you left school?
I knew I loved science, especially Biology, but I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do. That’s why I chose a general science degree and then just followed my interests until I ended up studying weird Madagascar mammals – things seem to be working out so far.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Not really, but I did come up with a few inventive reasons to get out of hockey training…
What was your favourite subject at school?
English; I had a great teacher and I loved writing essays which really helps now because there’s so much writing involved in science
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Travel! Being a scientist gives you lots of opportunities to travel and work in cool places. In the summer after I finished my degree I went to a remote island in Greece to help my friend with her research on lizards; fieldwork on a holiday island is not too bad! In the first year of my PhD I’ve been to the UK, Portugal, Washington DC, New York, Boston and Chicago all thanks to science :)
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
I’ve always been interested in nature and the environment thanks to a steady diet of David Attenborough documentaries and my mum who still calls me when she’s found a pretty spider’s web or hidden bird’s nest.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
If I had the courage or the talent I’d be a dancer. I was a Billie Barry Kid from the age of 8 to 21 and loved all the singing and dancing performances I did with them over the years
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) To have a copy of the marauder’s map (super useful when you think about it), 2) to discover a new species, 3) to dance on a Broadway stage, preferably with Hugh Jackman (who could say no?)
Tell us a joke.
I stole it from the “pun of the day” calendar in our office; What do female French zebras wear under their blouses? ze – Bra of course! (I never said it was going to be good…)
Taking a break to chat to the locals during fieldwork in Greece
I get to work in pretty cool places, including the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago
This is what behind the scenes looks like in the mammals collection at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington DC
With lots of drawers full of animal skins, skulls and skeletons
Some tenrec limbs are tiny!
To study the shape of animals I get to play with lasers! Taking a 3D scan of a tenrec skull
One of these is a tenrec and not a hedgehog; can you guess which one?
You never know what you’ll find lying around a museum; this is a tooth from a Tyrannosaurus rex!
We have our own museum in the Zoology department at Trinity with some cool specimens. This is Prince Tom, the alcoholic Indian Elephant who lives directly above my office. Find out about his unusual life here http://www.ecoevoblog.com/2013/06/24/prince-tom/