Thanks for the votes! You have all been super fun and inquisitive :D
Amherst College (2006-2010), University of Glasgow (2010-2011)
BSc Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; MSc Seabird and Fisheries Science
Point Defiance Zoo; Amherst College Biology Department; RPS Group
Predictive Modelling Scientist
Favourite thing to do in my job: I love when one of my models turns up a new discovery, especially when it’s one I’m not expecting. It might seem boring to do maths all day instead of watching live animals all the time, but I get really excited when the math tells me something about the animals’ behaviour or environment that no one knew.
Use math to study bird behaviour to reduce the risks from building wind farms.
You have probably seen a lot about wind farms on the news. Many people worry that building huge turbines to generate electricity could harm the environment. There is extra concern about birds flying into the turbine blades and getting hurt. To make sure wildlife doesn’t get hurt by wind farms, a whole team of scientists studies the local ecosystem, including the birds, mammals, amphibians, and plants.
Based on what we learn, we help the engineers decide what construction techniques to use and where to place the turbines. In my job, I study how birds fly, nest and look for food in the area where the wind farm is planned. I gather data from thousands of observations of birds, then I use a type of maths called a probability density function to find the areas that are most important for the birds. Once I have the answers, I use a computer program to turn my calculations into a map. This map shows the engineers where to place the turbines so that birds are least likely to fly into them, and it helps the builders avoid disturbing birds that are nesting or eating in the area.
My Typical Day
I turn data about bird activity into maths equations and computer models
First thing in the morning, I get woken up by my pet greyhound– he’s better than an alarm clock! Some days I work from home. If I’m in my flat, I’ll sit in a big comfy chair with my computer and a huge notepad. Even though I eventually put the models on the computer, I like working the maths out on paper first because I find it easier to catch mistakes that way.
Either way, I check my email for new data. Usually there’s lots! I upload this data into whatever computer program I want to use. Some programs help me figure out the maths for my models. Another one helps me look for typos and other problems in the data. And another allows me to turn my maths predictions into maps. If I’m lucky, the ecologists who gathered the data in the field also took photos or videos.
My coworkers are usually working on other parts of the same project, so we talk a lot during the day. We give each other advice and answer each other’s questions. But we don’t always agree! It’s actually a good thing, because if we’re not sure what the answer is– are those birds just hanging out for the day, or are they always on that beach?– we know we need to collect more information, and that makes our scientific conclusions better.
What I'd do with the prize money
Installation at the Whitelee Wind Farm visitor centre to show how wind farm planners avoid harming wildlife
There is a lot of misinformation about how wind farms and wind farm construction effects wildlife. The Whitelee Wind Farm has a good visitor centre, but even they don’t have any information about how wind farms are planned to avoid harming birds and other animals.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Creative, curious, determined
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Created a model that shows how climate change effects the whole North Sea ecosystem.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
I’ve wanted to be a scientist since I can remember. Luckily my parents encouraged all my questions and experiements!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Once, when I was 12, I threw dried beans at someone in Biology class
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
A historian or history teacher
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Belle and Sebastian
What's your favourite food?
Thai red curry (with veggies)
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Sailed to Nova Scotia on a research boat. We encountered giant waves, caught (and released) weird deep-sea fish, and even met a pod of porpoises!
Tell us a joke.
What do you call cheese that isn’t yours? Nacho cheese