Many people probably wouldn’t consider studying to be an adventure, but for me, going back to university and starting a PhD is exactly what this is.
Last week was my first week of being a student again and during various induction sessions we were asked, “why do you want to do a PhD?”. As a 3.5-year independent research project, it’s not something to be taken lightly so our motivations need to be strong and genuine. For me, it’s a mixture of wanting to progress my career in wildlife conservation, to learn new skills, do something exciting and contribute something meaningful to the world. But the real driving force behind all of that? I have a physical bucket list and ten years ago I wrote ‘become Dr. Danni’, so ultimately, this next adventure is to achieve that goal.
I won’t give you my life story, but I do think it’s always important to highlight that things don’t always go to plan. You might not even have a plan. But if you take advantage of opportunities and persevere if you know where you want to go, eventually things will happen. I do have undergraduate and masters degrees, but I spent around five years after each of these doing everything except studying – I fell in love, went travelling for years, worked in a variety of different jobs, spent time depressingly unemployed, indulged in a lot of hobbies - all of which gave me the space to learn what it was I did and didn’t want to do. I applied for six PhD projects over three years before I was successful, but each unsuccessful application told me what I needed to do to finally bag the best project for me. And I’m very excited about my project.
I’ll be working with Falkland Island shags (Leucocarbo atriceps albiventer). Shags, or cormorants, are a type of seabird found all over the world, typically with long snake-like necks and dagger bills. They live and feed relatively close inshore all year round, so they don’t hit the headlines as much as globetrotting species like albatrosses, but they’re just as essential to our ocean environments. Falkland Island shags are, as you can probably guess, only found in the Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina. Despite being a familiar species across the archipelago, relatively little is known about them (again, penguins and albatrosses usually steal the limelight).
Breeding Falkland Island shags on Carcass Island, 1986 © Keith Cowieson
My project will focus on understanding the shags’ feeding behaviour, so I’ll be looking at where they go, what they’re feeding on, and what might be causing individual birds and colonies to specialise in this behaviour. I’ll be using this blog to keep you up to date with my research, share the exciting (and sometimes not-so-exciting but equally important) results and take you on a few photographic adventures down south.
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