Natalie Pilakouta

This has been fun - thanks to those who voted for me.

Favourite Thing: Observing animals in their natural environment!



Yale University (2010-2013), University of Edinburgh (2013-present)


Bachelor of Science, Master of Science

Work History:

Yale University (Teaching Fellow), University of Edinburgh (Demonstrator/Teaching Assistant)

Current Job:

PhD Student


University of Edinburgh

Me and my work

I study animal sex, specifically asking which types of males females typically choose to mate with and why they might sometimes change their minds and mate with someone else instead.

The work on animal sex is being done in fishes and specifically on swordtails. In this species, males have a long tail called a ‘sword’ which females do not have (see pictures below). I typically put a female in a tank on her own and then I show her videos of different males  to see which one she spends more time interacting with. I then show her a video of a scary predator, followed by videos of the same males again to see if this changes who the females prefer.

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Another thing I’m currently working on is parental care in insects. I study what makes some parents better or worse than others and whether the offspring of good parents perform better later in life. I’m also interested in the conflict between parents and offspring, as well as the competition between siblings.

My Typical Day

I spend a lot of my time in the lab, feeding and breeding my animals.

For my work on insects, I pair up males and females so that they mate and produce offspring. I then watch each of these families, recording the growth rates of the babies and the behaviour of the parents to see how involved they are in taking care of their offspring. I then track these offspring until they grow up to become adults and have their own babies to see if their parenting abilities match those of their parents. So my typical day involves watching parents feeding their babies and weighing the offspring at different developmental stages.

What I'd do with the money

I would use the money to build a website where I post videos and descriptions of interesting animal behaviours on a daily basis.

If I won this prize, I would want to do something with the money that has the potential to benefit students all across the UK (and possibly the world!), not just locally. So my idea is to build and publicize a website dedicated to exposing students to the fascinating world of animal behaviour.

For every day, I would have a post on the “Animal of the Day” which would describe an interesting behaviour of a specific species, accompanied with a short video showing that behaviour. I would include a comment section for students to ask questions about the species or the behaviour described. The website would also have a separate section where students can request a post on a specific species they are interested in or curious about.

See here for an example of the kind of video I would post on the website: This one shows how the pistol shrimp (also known as the snapping shrimp) uses sound as a weapon to ward off predators and stun prey.


My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Ambitious, hard-working, passionate

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Taylor Swift

What's your favourite food?


What is the most fun thing you've done?

SCUBA diving in the Red Sea

What did you want to be after you left school?

Wildlife ecologist

Were you ever in trouble in at school?


What was your favourite subject at school?

Biology and Chemistry

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

The best thing I’ve done as a scientist was to teach a course on Animal Behaviour to college students. I really enjoyed sharing my passion with young scientists and getting them as excited as I am about this subject!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I’ve been fascinated by the natural world for as long as I can remember, but there was no single defining event that inspired me to become a scientist.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Wildlife photographer

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1) I would absolutely love to be able to communicate with animals, especially my pets! 2) I really want to visit New Zealand and Madagascar at some point in my life. 3) Go to space for a day!

Tell us a joke.

Q: Where do hippos go to university? A: Hippocampus

Other stuff

Work photos: