Modelling how corals apply the Goldilocks Principle to engineer their habitat
This PhD was hosted in the School of GeSciences, University of Edinburgh in partnership with the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Heriot-Watt University, the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow, and Operation Wallacea which acted as a CASE partner.
Seeing that what I see on my computer looks like what we see in nature was very fulfilling and was giving me more motivation to continue and push the boundaries of my research.
What was your research about?
My PhD was about modelling how local hydrodynamics can affect the growth of cold-water corals. I used computational fluid dynamics to evaluate the influence of the incoming currents on cold-water corals. I also showed how ocean acidification can affect the skeleton of these corals and modelled how a restoration practice could be implemented in order to alleviate habitat losses.
What made you apply to the E3 DTP?
I think it was a combination of things. The program seemed exciting, with various opportunities for development. Also, the subject of my PhD itself and the opportunity to work in a multi-disciplinary environment for something that I would enjoy.
What did you find challenging in your PhD?
My PhD was almost what I thought it would be. I would not say that there were any big surprises regarding the work that I had to do. What I found challenging was the lack of relevant research for cold-water corals, especially compared to tropical corals. It made obtaining data a not so straight-forward task at times.
Looking back, what would you have done differently?
A couple things that I could potentially change would be:
- Using a commercial (or open source) CFD solver instead of writing my own code. It would probably make my work speed-up a little faster, but on the other hand I am much better as a programmer today than I was 4 years ago.
- Conducting my own experiments, instead of relying on (limited) experimental data from the literature. I think this would give me an opportunity to gain data that would be directly translatable to my models.
Having the opportunity to pass my knowledge and help students was something I enjoyed and made me think about my future career in academia.
Which aspects of your PhD did you enjoy the most?
I enjoyed creating new models of cold-water corals. Seeing that what I see on my computer looks like what we see in nature was very fulfilling and was giving me more motivation to continue and push the boundaries of my research.
Also, working within a very supportive and knowledgeable team was something I enjoyed throughout these 4 years.
- Fieldwork at Honduras – I had the opportunity to visit coral reef sites, go snorkelling and see them in their natural environment.
- Presenting my research at conferences was also something I enjoyed. Getting feedback and also having a look at what other people on the field are working in.
- I was working as teaching assistant throughout my PhD. Having the opportunity to pass my knowledge and help students was something I enjoyed and made me think about my future career in academia.
Which skills did you gain during your PhD?
I would say that the more important skills I learned or improved were coding and presenting my research to different audiences.
What would not have been possible without the DTP?
The DTP offered various training opportunities in things that I wanted to improve. Also, I had the opportunity to do fieldwork in Honduras.
Unfortunately, I did not do a PIP [Professional Internship], my plans were altered due to COVID. But, it is definitely something that can be useful for PhD students to get an exposure to a different environment.
How has your PhD helped you to decide on a career path?
I started my PhD having in mind that I want to pursue an academic career. And throughout my PhD, I understood that this is want I want to do. Not only in terms of research, but teaching as well.
I am currently a Research Associate in the University of Plymouth. I am modelling the potential impacts that a sea-water air-conditioning system can have on the environment. Both positive, in terms of energy saved, and negative, in terms of potentially high temperature water thrown into the sea.
I applied a few weeks before finishing my PhD through the www.jobs.ac.uk website.