Becoming A Master – A Week In The Life

Week 31

Hello everyone, this week has been a busy one and instead of writing this on a Sunday and reflecting on the week just gone I’ve written a little each day. Hopefully this will show you that in my life currently there is no daily routine and every day is a little different.

Monday: Today I’ve been running a few errands, getting the shopping in and such as well as catching up on the emails I missed from being at home. I also spent a lot of today researching and writing for The Woodland Trust. I really love the volunteering I do for them as I just learn so much! If you’d like to see the work I do for them here are a few links:

Wild Orchids in the UK

Why Do Nettles Sting?

How to forage wild garlic!

Tuesday: Today I’ve been running through my statistics focusing on finding statistically significant results. These are important as when something is statistically significant you can say with more confidence that one thing is affecting another. This can be difficult to show in ecology as there are lots of variables out in the outside world!

Wednesday: Today I’ve been continuing with my work on Tuesday but also developing my reasons why I’m finding certain results. Stats can sometimes leave you with more questions than answers! I’ve been developing theories and working out what I want to say with my dissertation. This has somewhat left me with a few moments of yelling into a pillow when I don’t know which way is best! – All the fun of a masters I guess!

Thursday: The statistics continued today and I managed to answer some questions that I had from yesterday. I also collated all the work I’ve done so far for my meeting tomorrow.

Friday: Today I had a meeting with my supervisor for my dissertation. He gave me lots of ideas about how to use all the data analysis I’ve doing to create a succinct and convincing story. Which is great because I have a lot of editing to do!

After my meeting I went to go and give blood for the first time! I’ve always wanted to do this because I have no reason why I cant do it and every time someone gives blood they can save three different lives. It’s an incredible thing to do so go and do it if you can. It didn’t hurt nearly as much as how I’d built it up in my head and the nurses were totally lovely!

Saturday: So today I wrote up everything from my meeting and got to some planning. Although I did spend the afternoon on the sims… everyone needs a break!

Sunday:  I’m currently writing this just before I’m about to head out to spend some time with friends and my wonderful other half. We’re heading to the pottermore pop up shop in London and I am so excited! If you are also a potter fan let me know in the comments!

Hope you’ve enjoyed this update!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!

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Top 10 Hedgerow Plants

Hello! I have been working on my dissertation for my masters which is all about hedgerows and their conservation. This has meant I’ve got to know the plants in Cornish hedgerows really well so without further a do here are 10 of my favourites!

  1. Red Campion (Silene dioica) – This is one of the most common wild flowers I found as part of my research. Traditional medicines used the seeds to treat snakebites and its genus name comes from the greek word sialon which means saliva.
  2. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) – Easily the plant I was most aware of in my research because I had all the stings to prove I had found it. However, stinging nettles have their place in the hedgerow and provide an excellent habitat and food source for lots of my favourite butterflies.
  3. Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) – This was one of the main shrubs I found in my hedgerows. It can be extremely dense but provide food and habitat for up to 300 different species of insect. It was once said that if you brought a hawthorn blossom into your house illness and death were to follow so perhaps admire this plant from afar.
  4. Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) – Another common hedgerow shrub also known by the name of sloe bush. It’s berries are commonly made into sloe gin but another interesting fact is that blackthorn wood was associated with witchcraft.
  5. Buttercup (Ranunculus repens) – Otherwise known as the species with the best latin name I have ever heard of. I commonly found creeping buttercup at the bottom of hedgerows. It used to be a favourite game of mine and my friends at primary school to hold a buttercup flower underneath each others chins and if you could see the yellow reflection of the flower it meant you liked butter. Not particularly sure why that mattered but it’s still a delightful little flower.
  6. Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) – Fun fact sycamore trees are actually my favourite tree. They have the most beautiful colours in them all year round as the young leaves and stems are red before going green. They are actually an introduced species in the UK but they have been here since the 17th century. They can live for up to 400 years so I think the Sycamore is here to stay!
  7. Fools Parsley (Aethusa cynapium) – This one wasn’t very common so I definitely had to dig around to find it but I did! In some areas it grows quite commonly but every hedge is different.
  8. Dogs Violet (Viola riviana) – This is another very sweet wildflower that I found in my research. If you do happen upon a violet looking flower it’s more than likely going to be this one.
  9. Hazel (Corylus avellana) – This is another very common hedgerow tree. It provides an excellent resource for many other species but often suffers when cut back to vigorously. The stems are very bendy in spring so much that they can be bent into a knot without breaking!
  10. Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) – This species was introduced to the UK in the 19th century as an ornamental species and has since escaped from gardens and can be found in lots of areas. I found some specimens in the base of my hedgerows but was always careful of them as the sap from this species can cause irritation and even blisters.

If you fancy finding out more about hedgerows I’m talking a lot about them in my becoming a master series which comes out on Sundays!

See you soon!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!

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The Future of ThatBiologist

Hello and welcome to this ominous sounding blog!

I have been writing here for just over two years! I love every second of it and everyone’s support particularly on twitter has been phenomenal. Now before you think anything too wild I am not leaving or stopping in anyway! I actually want to grow my blog and take thatbiologist to new platforms. I’ve been working on a podcast series that I really want to develop as well as keeping up with new content here!

To do all this I need some funds. I’d love to own my domain here and become thatbiologist.com as well as keep everything free for the masses! So if you do enjoy my content and would like to support it you can donate to my new patreon page. By doing so not only will you be helping me here but you’ll also get sneak behind the scenes access to what I’m up to.

Thank you for your continued support! Happy Biologying everyone!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!

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Clayton Lamb – Conservation Conversations

2I’m back with another episode of conservation conversations. My interviewee this time is a population ecologist. He’s working on the limits to grizzly bear population growth in British Columbia (BC). Clayton Lamb has some truly amazing stories so without further a do here are his answers to my questions.

 

  1. Starting off with something simple, what is your favourite species and why?

I’ve always liked sheep. Bighorn and thinhorn sheep.  I like the habitat they inhabit.  It’s the same habitat I like to be in.  High mountains, open grass or alpine meadows.  They are gregarious and majestic animals.  Mountain goats are neat too, but no thanks on the cliff walking.  I clearly like bears.

  1. So now I’m going to quiz you about your career in this sector, firstly why did you decide to get into conservation?

I grew up in an outdoors-oriented household. Even as a kid I’d always ask: why are there many fish here, but none there? Or, how many moose could live in this swamp, what would they eat? It was this natural curiosity, paired with outdoor skills learned growing up, that allowed me to integrate well with biologists and gain valuable experience at a young age.  Eventually leading I enrolled in a BSc. And finally a PhD, both of which focused on wildlife ecology and the conservation of animals and their habitats.

  1. Sometimes working in conservation or the environment sector can be difficult, what inspires you to keep going in your career?

I still spend a lot of time outside in the mountains and I am inspired to better understand and protect wilderness and the wild animals that inhabit these landscapes. I spend a good portion of my year behind binoculars observing animals, or handling them for research, these moments always remind me how important it is to protect these valuable resources.
And coffee. Lots of coffee at my computer. (I know that feeling).

  1. What’s next on your career bucket list?

Pass my PhD candidacy exam. It’s not clear, at the moment, that there is anything else to strive for.  On a larger scale, I am starting up a GPS telemetry project to track the rates and causes of grizzly bear mortality in a sensitive region of BC.  I look forward to working with stakeholders on this project to learn more about these bears and to seek creative solutions to the mortality problem. And then get a real job one day.. eeek.

  1. What’s been your career highlight so far?

I have had many academic highlights since starting my PhD, including publishing a pair of grizzly bear ecology papers in 2016 and receiving a Vanier Canadian Graduate Scholarship, Canadas most prestigious scholarship. However, when I think back to my time as a biologist/researcher, highlights usually consists more of time afield studying animals. One highlight was spending 6 weeks in Oregon, USA collecting American pika hair using non-invasive hair snares made from packing tape. We had amazing weather, and it was so enjoyable laying in warm talus slopes all day, rolling packing tape around my finger and wondering which rock crevice I should stick it in to collect hair off of a passing pika. We would have friendly competitions to see who caught more hair samples each day. I learned a lot about pika that summer.

  1. Our world is pretty amazing with lots of wonderful things happening in the natural world. What natural phenomenon would you like to see or have seen?

I’ve stood in wild country in northern British Columbia, yet untouched by humans. I’ve hiked multiple days in a single direction and never seen a trace of another human. It is remarkable to stand on a mountain in the northern Rockies and think that the nearest road or highway is 100’s of kilometres to the east. In this area I have watched wolverine play on snow patches only 50 meters from where I was sitting.
I would like to see the animals and habitats of Africa one day.

  1. If you could let the general public know one thing about conservation what would it be?

The facts and research are only one piece of the puzzle. Scientists and Conservationists can provide rigorous, evidence-based recommendations for conserving the natural world, but if the public strongly opposes these recommendations they are unlikely to be acted upon. If you feel strongly about a cause, contact your local politicians and express your concerns. Make your voice heard.

  1. Now if you could change one thing about how the world works what would you change and why?

I think human capacity to see the “big picture” is limited. We treat the natural world as a commodity that we have a right to.  Indeed, we are a part of the system, but have no ownership over it.  This mentality is unlikely to yield long-term profits.

Now for some favourites!

 

  1. Favourite sound?

Bull elk bugle

  1. Favourite fact?

Beavers eat their own poo

  1. Favourite snack?

Apple with peanut butter

  1. Favourite word?

Veracit. Being devoted to conveying the truth.

  1. Favourite curse word? 

Kittywampus. Not a curse word, but substitutes nicely for “that thing is crooked as F**k”

  1. Least favourite word?

Rejected. In an academic publishing sense.

And finally…

  1. What’s your best piece of advice for someone who wants to do better for the environment?

Small actions, multiplied over many people have large impacts. We are currently outstripping the resources on earth at an unsustainable rate.  With a burgeoning human population there are two options to reduce net consumption: reduce population size, or reduce per-capita use of resources.  The latter is likely the most feasible option in the near term.  Recycle, be aware of the products and foods you buy.  Be an active and engaged consumer.

1

Thank you so much to Clayton for answering my questions! I know I feel inspired! If you’d like to hear more about Claytons work I’d highly suggest following him on twitter at @ClaytonTLamb or @Wild49Eco.

ThatBiologist Everywhere!

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Alex Evans – Conservation Conversations

alex-evansToday I’m so excited to share another episode of conservation conversations. My guest today is completing his PhD at the University of Leeds in the energetic’s of animal locomotion. Alex Evans has been focusing on how birds and beetles fly. Something that I happen to think is pretty cool. Anyway here are his answers to my questions!

  1. Starting off with something simple, what is your favourite species and why?

My all-time favourite species is unquestionably the secretary bird. As a large terrestrial raptor with long legs and fancy crest, the secretary bird is iconic throughout Southern Africa for hunting snakes and kicking their skulls in. I first saw a secretary bird at San Diego zoo about 7 years ago, and I was instantly fascinated by it. Since then, I’ve become a bit obsessed with them – I have a secretary bird on my phone wallpaper, my work desktop and I’ve even got a LEGO secretary bird on my desk watching me work at all times. (Stunning) There was some great research done by Steve Portugal last year on the force and speed of their kicks and it further confirmed how awesome they are. Unsurprisingly, I’m also a big fan of seriemas and their ‘terror bird’ ancestors, a group of giant prehistoric flightless birds that ran around South America gobbling up horses. I have a thing for big carnivorous birdies.

  1. So now I’m going to quiz you about your career in this sector, firstly why did you decide to get into conservation?

From secondary school onwards, I knew that I wanted to get involved with the life sciences, largely due to many visits to natural history museums and many more David Attenborough documentaries. I started off doing my undergraduate degree in Biology, but switched to Zoology after the first year to focus on animals and went on to do an MSc in Biodiversity & Conservation. Following on from my MSc, my PhD project was initially an investigation into the ecophysiology of migrating birds, but has since developed into a wider exploration of how effectively animals can convert the energy from their food into physical movement. It’s become less focused on conservation and more focused on fundamental research, but I feel that the more we learn about how energy from the environment is utelised internally by birds for foraging, migrating, hunting or escaping predators, the more we can understand about their behaviour and ecology.

  1. Sometimes working in conservation or the environment sector can be difficult, what inspires you to keep going in your career?

There’s still so much to be done. Once I’ve finished my PhD, I know that I’ll have started to ask more questions than I’ll have answered, and that’s good motivation to keep exploring the field.

  1. What’s next on your career bucket list?

Getting my first scientific paper published! I am just about to send a paper based on my MSc dissertation back to a journal following reviewer’s comments, so I’m very excited for that to go ahead! Fingers crossed!

  1. What’s been your career highlight so far?

I recently won an award for giving the best PhD summary talk at a research symposium organised by my funding body. It was so nice to feel appreciation for the hard work I’ve put into the last few years and it definitely felt good to share my research with people from outside the bubble of my department.

  1. Our world is pretty amazing with lots of wonderful things happening in the natural world. What natural phenomenon would you like to see or have seen?

There’s so many exotic locations and wild animals I would love to see first-hand, but there’s still loads to see here in the UK. I’ve never seen a live badger, largely because I’d usually rather be tucked up in bed when they’re out and about, but that’s an animal I would love to see here in the wild. For Christmas I got a book with the 100 best bird-watching spots around the world, so I may or may not be planning my honeymoon with a few of those in mind as well…

  1. If you could let the general public know one thing about conservation what would it be?

Everyone can do their small part to conserve the natural world. Making your garden hedgehog-friendly or building solitary bee hotels are two quick and easy ways you can improve the availability of habitats for local wildlife in a time when natural spaces and green corridors are dwindling.

  1. Now if you could change one thing about how the world works what would you change and why?

I would put an end to any discussion that climate change is not happening. The fact that it has become a political issue is beyond absurd. It is happening, we’re causing it and we can all help to do something about it if we’re not too busy fighting over its existence. (I completely agree!)

Now for some favourites!

  1. Favourite sound?

When I finish up a plate of mac n’ cheese and think it’s all gone, then my wife says “there’s more in the kitchen…”. Pure music to my ears.

  1. Favourite fact?

Hmm, not sure if I have a favourite – but animal penis facts are always a winner. Echidna penises are like little trees, with one shaft and four heads, which they alternate between when bonking. Look them up, you won’t regret it.

  1. Favourite snack?

I love me a good cookie.

  1. Favourite word?

I always used to like ‘cornucopia’ but I don’t think I’ve had a reason to say it for years.

  1. Favourite curse word? 

I’m a fan of immature mashups like pissfart and shitdicks.

  1. Least favourite word?

Ugh, I know it’s not really a word but I can’t stand people saying “at the end of the day” to justify doing anything they want, it just grates on me.

And finally…

  1. What’s your best piece of advice for someone who wants to do better for the environment?

I think the first and most important step is to inform yourself and don’t just rely on the news as your only source of information about the environment. There are plenty of great science websites, social media forums, blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos and many more forms of media that share the latest conservation discoveries and discussions. A lot of important conservation issues often go overlooked (take the EU referendum as an example) because people are unaware of the environmental impact of their choices.

Thank you so much to Alex for answering these questions. I feel like I now know all I need to about echnida penises! If you want to hear more from Alex and his tales of living that PhD life then I strongly recommend you following him on twitter at @alexevans91. Or you can find more of him at his blog Bird Brained Science.

ThatBiologist Everywhere!

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5 Cool things about Octopuses!

Hello welcome to the third day of blog every day in April….

Today I have literally no time at all (so much so this got written weeks ago) however I still want to tell you 5 amazing things about the humble octopus! Let’s go!

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Number 1: There are approximately 300 recognized species of Octopus!

Number 2: All octopuses are venomous but only small blue-ringed octopuses are known to be deadly to humans.

Number 3: Octopuses have three hearts. Two pump blood through each of the two gills and the other pumps the blood through the rest of the body!

Number 4: Octopuses are really intelligent. They can use tools, open boxes and they can learn by observing another octopus. They are also amazing escape artists! In fact here is a video of an octopus escaping through a 1 inch diameter hole!

Number 5: Octopuses have been observed playing with toys! They even all have individual responses and temperaments. This has led to some theories on octopuses having individual personalities.

To summarise, octopuses are pretty cool. A truly fascinating group of species that I’m sure we’ll find lots more about in the future!

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When You Go Down To The Woods Today…

Hello!

So today will be a quick blog post but I really wanted to update everyone on some really exciting work I’ve been doing.

I knew when I was doing my masters degree that I wanted to take on some volunteer work as well. It took a little bit of finding because my schedule wouldn’t allow me to go some where more than a day a week at most. But in November of last year a position as a volunteer content writer with the woodland trust came about. It was just the perfect position for me and I truly believe that what the woodland trust too is incredible. And! They offered me the position!!!! So I’m now writing blog posts for them once a month. I’d strongly recommend having a look at their blog anyway because its insightful and easy to read! I’m also working on another project with them.

So here is the link to my first blog post with them!

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blogs/woodland-trust/2017/01/nine-things-to-do-outdoors-this-weekend/

If you’d like to see more of my woodland trust blogs you can follow me on there website or I’ll be sure to update my About Laura page with them.

ThatBiologist Everywhere!

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Becoming A Master – Sleepy Superhero

Week 13

go-to-sleep

Hello! So here we are at the end of another week and I am TIRED! I took some much needed time off this weekend but what I’ve learnt so far is that masters degrees are full throttle the whole time. In my undergrad, January was always a sleepy month where you could relax a little but with my masters I just don’t have the time to do that. Last week I submitted my assignments for last term and this week I’ve started ones for this term. I’m not complaining though, (I know it sounds like I am), I like being kept on my toes. I love all the new things I’m learning too. This past week I learnt that I can fully identify 17 different diatom taxa. I learnt I can put a digital photograph into a GIS map. I learnt what the thermocline is and how it affects coral reefs (more to come on that, it’s really cool). I also learnt about core extrusion from my field trip last week.

So after all that plus doing all the writing that I do everyday I am pretty tired. However, I keep going! I love what I do and I always feel like with what I’m learning I can make a real difference. I always come away from the week feeling I can save the world even if I am on occasion a bit of a sleepy superhero.

So on to the highlight of the week for me, which was getting approval for my dissertation idea. It’s just the bare bones of the project that I’ll start in the summer. I’ll write about it more once I get the official go ahead for it but I’m super excited to get going with it!

That’s all from me this week, I’m heading back to bed!

Sweet Dreams!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!

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Becoming A Master – Ready, Set, Go!

Week 12

Hello!

I’m back after almost a month away! I can’t really believe it has been that long since I last updated you all on my masters degree so let me kick off with how last term ended. My last day of term finished with a presentation for my group project which went really well! So well done team if you’re reading this! Then our whole department went for our christmas do which was actually a talk from Chris Packham! It was extremely insightful as to what practical conservation can look like. He showed us some of his truly incredible photography.

Image result for chris packham photography

Then it was time for a well earned christmas break.. or not. Over the christmas break I wrote three assignments totaling at approximately 7,500 words and I started some new writing projects! My assignments were all handed in on Monday this week so fingers crossed they all pass through with flying colours. And with that a new term with brand new modules started!

So as for this week Monday started with a lecture and practical in Diatoms! These are fascinating little beasts and it felt so good to be back in the lab after so long away. I took a few pictures with my phone not that they show diatoms in the greatest detail. I was using a x1000 lens just to give you a scale of how small these guys are.

img_0495 img_0484

On Tuesday I had my first battle with GIS. Thats geographical information software. It’s a fantastic skill to have because with it you can build up maps and make links between well lots of different things. Anyway I really enjoyed the first session so here’s to a bright future with it! On Wednesday I had a lecture in marine conservation. I studied marine in depth in a module in my undergrad but this module seems to include more policy. Marine policy can be a little complicated so I’ll explain that in a future blog.

On Thursday I had a field trip that took us to a lake in North Hertfordshire. I spent 3 hours on some very cold tiny boats doing coring. This is when you take sediment from the bottom of a lake and from that you can find out what was living in it hundreds of years ago. It did rain down a lot that day but it was still great fun!

Then Friday was my 23rd birthday and I’ve had an amazing weekend celebrating just that! I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of BAM!

Happy Biologying!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!

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