The effect of environmental factors on inter-individual differences in Engystomops pustulosus and Xenopus laevis tadpole behaviour
This PhD was hosted in the School of Biological Sciences, Institute of Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh.
I enjoyed the environment which my department provided for conducting research. [...] I had great discussions with other students and staff members about all aspects of science. It was great to have such a sociable atmosphere whilst doing my PhD.
What was your research about?
I used amphibian tadpoles as model organism to understand how the individual variation in behaviour is influenced by environmental factors such as competition, food availability and human disturbance.
What made you apply to the E3 DTP?
I was largely drawn to the project more than anything else. My project was on an aspect of animal behaviour I was really interested in and could see myself doing research on. After applying, I met with the supervisor several times via online meetings and these gave me confidence that we would work well together.
I was also really impressed with the organisation of DTP when I came to Edinburgh for my interview. I was able to meet a mixture of current staff members and students in person and having this interaction was important for helping me visualise whether I could see myself at the university. There was a presentation on the DTP itself and what could be expected. I had not come across this in any scheme before and it really stood out that the organisers cared about the students and DTP itself.
What did you find challenging in your PhD?
Overall, I believe that my PhD was in line with my expectations. I knew that it would involve 3-4 years of hard work which is what it was. I think one aspect which I found really challenging was the mental slump at the end of my second year. This are generally referred to as the “second year blues” but I did not think they would hit me so hard and for so long.
I really enjoyed collecting data for my final experiment in my third and fourth year. Now being an expert in my field, it felt great approaching the project with confidence and being able to solve any problems efficiently.
Looking back, what would you have done differently?
I would have done a lot more reading in my first year and really focused on getting a solid literature review completed in the first 6 months. Whilst I did do a lot of reading overall, I could have documented some of the broader ideas better, which would have made communicating my research a lot easier during later stages.
I would have also liked to have been more confident on asking other students and staff for advice. Most people will be happy to help, it’s just having the confidence to ask which is important. Whilst I did seek out assistance in my later years, some parts of my project would have been solved much faster if I sought advice sooner.
Which aspects of your PhD did you enjoy the most?
I really enjoyed collecting data for my final experiment in my third and fourth year. Now being an expert in my field, it felt great approaching the project with confidence and being able to solve any problems efficiently. I also really enjoyed my PIP which involved conducting a type of statistical analysis on my data which was new to me. Doing this late on in my PhD meant I had built up a lot of experience, so I was able to take a lot out of it. Most of all, however, I enjoyed the environment which my department provided for conducting research. I was based in Ashworth which has a vibrant coffee room, the “Darwin Dance Hall” (DDH for short). Here I had great discussions with other students and staff members about all aspects of science. It was great to have such a sociable atmosphere whilst doing my PhD.
Two three-month long field trips to Trinidad. Whilst in Trinidad we stayed in a remote field station in the middle of the rainforest. To make this even better, these trips were funded by grants I was able to apply for within the University. It was a unique experience as well as a surprise as this is something I had not expected before starting the PhD: the opportunity arose via connections my supervisor had both in Trinidad and at The University of Glasgow.
The ample number of science conferences I attended as a PhD student. I always got so much out of them and being around so many other researchers who were equally passionate about their research area was really rewarding too.
Which skills did you gain during your PhD?
A wide array of coding and statistical skills. By the end of my PhD, I was able to run complex multivariate generalised linear models which I was using to extract variance components at multiple hierarchical levels. I also developed software for tracking and measuring the movement of individual tadpoles from video footage using python. These are both skills which I would not have believed I could develop prior to starting my PhD.
In terms of my general skill levels, I have become much more proficient in communicating my research and ideas as well as become more confident in networking with other researchers.
I have become much more proficient in communicating my research and ideas as well as become more confident in networking with other researchers.
What would not have been possible without the DTP?
During my PhD I completed a PIP [Professional Internship] in an overseas lab. Although this placement ended up being conducted entirely over Zoom due to Covid-19, it was a great opportunity to be involved with research at another university.
The early coding workshops in R and Python were also really useful. Whilst these were short and very general courses, they gave me exposure to coding environments which I had zero experience in prior to starting my PhD. Receiving NERC funding also allowed me to attend a greater number of training events had I received funding from elsewhere as many courses are free or subsidised for NERC funded researchers.
How has your PhD helped you to decide on a career path?
Since completing my master’s degree in 2016, I have known I want a career in research. Whilst I am unsure whether this will be research conducted in industry or academia, having a PhD will be essential for following this career path.
I am currently a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Roslin Institute at The University of Edinburgh. My post-doctoral research is on the behaviour of commercially bred Pekin ducks. I use multiple sources of environmental, sensor, genomic and phenotypes collected on individual ducks to improve both understanding of individuals and flock performance.
I applied for this post three months prior to submitting my PhD and notified them of my thesis hand in date at the application stage. They were happy to delay the start of the position so that I could start after submitting my thesis.
You can follow my research activities on my personal website: www.cammybeyts.com