Hi Hannah! Let's jump straight in. What did you study at university, and why?
I studied zoology at university because I loved biology in school, and I realised that zoology was a ‘fun’ science - I’m quite curious about the world around me and I think of this subject as science ‘with a face’. It’s easy to connect with and not as dry as I find some sciences. I wanted to invest in something I enjoy.
What attracted you to this internship?
I saw this internship posted online and the fact that it was in Spain got my attention first, because I’ve travelled a little in Spain already, and I wanted to learn the language to open up opportunities to travel with research. The fact that you are provided with living expenses was also a huge bonus, as funded research can be quite a rare thing to find – especially before you have a Masters degree! What made it really special though was the fact that the research topic is very similar to what I chose to study in my undergraduate dissertation, and what I want to specialise in. It’s a relatively niche field so it’s really exciting to have a chance to gain work experience in it, and I just thought, I can’t let this go!
What are you doing in your internship – what’s a typical day?
At my placement I am predominantly looking after little spadefoot toads; they’re part of a long-term experiment on phenotypic plasticity and microevolution. They’re also extremely cute! At the same time, I’m collecting data from research papers for a phylogenetic study on macroevolution in amphibians, which is really interesting. I spend a chunk of my working day cleaning and up-keeping the toads’ habitats, and spend the rest of my time reading and collating data from various research papers. I also occasionally get to take on fieldwork in Doñana, which is really fun and where all these photos are from!
How is it, being in the Biological Centre?
It’s amazing! It’s just a really interesting place to work, and you feel so connected to the scientific community. My department have weekly meetings where they talk about the different progress that everyone’s making. These are always really interesting and I feel like I’m keeping up-to-date with lots of current research. We also have weekly seminars from different researchers in the team, and meetings that take the form of career advice for the scientists. It’s just been really great for me to be in that environment; I’ve been learning loads about a whole range of topics within the zoological field, and I’m learning what it’s like to have a career in science.
Anything you’ve been especially enjoying, or favourite moments so far?
The best thing for me is the feeling that I’m developing and growing as a scientist. There’s so much to get involved with once you start asking questions! Alongside my main project, I’ve also been learning to use several new statistical methods and have been building my experience analysing phylogenetic relationships - the study of the relationships between different species. I’ve also been learning about geometrics and morphometrics, which are scientific ways to analyse photos. This is something again that I touched on during my undergrad dissertation, and it’s fantastic to get some official workplace experience using these methods. I feel like I’m understanding new aspects of evolutionary biology in so much more depth.
What about being in Spain – what’s good about living in Seville?
Well, for me it’s been all the little things, as I actually came to Seville with an old leg injury that’s caused a few complications! It means though that every little thing I do or place that I discover is a big achievement. For example: going kayaking on the river, seeing the April Feria (which was just so Spanish!!), checking out the museums, the parks and the beautiful old mansion houses and gardens – the little places around the city that tourists never probably get a chance to see – and finding all the places that feel like ‘your’ places - getting to the point where you start to feel like a local in a favourite bar or cafe. That’s a great feeling! Maybe my favourite thing so far was when the owner of the Cuban bar in our little plaza arranged a special vegetarian feast for us for my birthday - buying in ingredients especially! That was such a great meal.
Do you have plans for the next step in your career after this?
I’ve actually learnt about a couple of really interesting Masters programmes while I was here, as well as several volunteering opportunities in different parts of the world – many in South America, which I doubt I would have heard about if I wasn’t working in a Spanish-speaking workplace! That’s been an added bonus – being in this kind of scientific community can help to springboard you onto new projects that you couldn’t have known about otherwise. I’m very excited about the future!