Dreamy nighty sleepy snoozy bye bye time
Rathfarnham Parish National School (1985-1992), The High School Rathgar (1992-1993), Newtown School Waterford (1993-1997), Trinity College Dublin (1997-2001), University of Glasgow (2002-2006)
I have a degree in general science specialising in Zoology (animal biology) from Trinity College Dublin B.A. Mod. and a Doctorate in Philosophy (which is a mark of my ability conduct scientific research) from University of Glasgow, Scotland Ph.D. for my research into why and how animals live in groups.
I have worked in the Medical Research Council in the UK researching about how where you live affects your health (2005-2006). I worked in the Mechanical Engineering Department of Trinity College with engineers interested in how bone has evolved to be a strong, light and reparable skeleton (2005-2006). I got my current job as Assistant Professor in Trinity College Dublin in 2007 and have been here happily since.
I am an Assistant Professor in Ecology and Evolutoin which means I am responsible for both teaching and research at my university.
Trinity College Dublin
Favourite thing to do in science: I like thinking about why animals have evolved to be such different shapes, sizes, colours, and why they have different behaviours. I really enjoy discussing ideas with my students and coming up with new research projects to answer our questions. Sharing our new findings by writing science papers is always exciting and hugely rewarding when our work passes the tests and can be published for all to read.
I study why animals are different shapes and why they do different things. I am particularly interested in how animals that live in social groups resolve fights and cooperate to solve challenges like finding food and avoiding being eaten.
I work in the old Zoology (study of animals) building in Trinity College, which is a nice and inspiring place to work knowing how many scientists from previous generations worked and thought about the living world before me. I have my own office, and I also have a research office where my PhD students and other researchers work on the projects I invented.
The teaching part of my work involves standing up in front of between 20 and 250 students to give lectures and talks on various aspects of animal ecology and evolution. I also conduct research by working with a team of individuals on specific projects. These people are usually postgraduate students who have finished their degrees and are continuing their study to get a PhD which is a mark of research ability and endeavour. Aside from that, academics also tend to run the University so I have jobs that are called “administrative roles” that involve me helping others to apply for money to employ PhD students or to conduct research projects, as well as designing new courses for students to attend.
My Typical Day
I cycle in to work for 9 o’clock, then depending on the time of year do a mix of teaching, research and attend meetings before cycling home again around 5pm.
My normal day is pretty standard and is a combination of reading, writing, thinking, computer programming and meetings with students and colleagues. However, the content is hugely varied on a day-to-day basis.
Questions we are currently thinking about in my group:
Why are humans so intelligent and social?
Do small animals experience the passage of time faster than larger animals?
How do vultures find food as a group?
Can we fish more carefully and have less of a negative impact on the other species that live in the seas?
Why do some animals live longer than others?
Working with my students is one of the parts of my work I love the most. It’s really great fun to sit and chat about new ideas about why animals evolved certain characteristics such as the ability to see fast moving objects really clearly when other animals don’t care if the world whizzes by them.
What I'd do with the money
I would improve my building’s zoology museum to help when School students and members of the public visit.
Our zoology museum is a great place for our students to learn about the different shapes and patterns animals take and how evolution has created this diversity. We open the doors of our museum several times a year, and especially to students in Transition Year of secondary school. We also invite students from schools in the Trinity Access Programme so students who have not had a chance to see the inside of a University can come and be inspired by what we do.
I would use the money to improve the museum so that school students can come and have a better experience during their visit. This might include buying software for a computer in the museum so that they can find out more about the animals in our collection there and then rather than having to wait and visit a library later.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Excitable, Nerdy, Chaotic.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Nine Inch Nails / Trent Reznor
What is the most fun thing you've done?
ever? – doing research in Uganda Africa on army ants which was truly inspiring…. and most recently? – mountain biking, it was so fast and dangerous, I loved it!
What did you want to be after you left school?
I wanted to be a virologist, which is someone who studies viruses. In particular I wanted to work in a special closed off suit called a HazMat suit and work on the very deadly Ebola Virus.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Not really, but I did get caught up in some over-the-top celebrations after my junior certificate results came out. A lot of us got in a lot of trouble.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
In between my degree in zoology and my phd research student days, I went to Uganda in Africa to study tropical biology. This trip put 12 European students and 12 African students together for 6 weeks. It was amazing. I learned so much about other people and about the local biology. It changed the way I think about how life on earth has been shaped by all the millions of little interactions that go on everyday between living things and each other and their environment. Oh… and I got to see chimps in the wild which was both very exciting and very scary!… and ants, hippos, lions, elephants and all sorts of other animals.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) to have superpowers like wolverine. 2) have a really nice mountain bike (im hooked), 3) to publish my science research in the magazine “Nature” (very prestigious!)
Tell us a joke.
Whats brown and sticky?…. a stick (my favourite joke, if only because every time i hear it i think of something gross first)