Title of PhD
Integrating extinct and extant diversity into macro-evolutionary analyses
Briefly describe your area of research
My area of research, although broad in scope, is focused on characterising patterns and processes of how biological characters have changed over time among different groups of animals.
This includes detecting body size trends in planktonic microorganisms and mammals, all the way to inferring how natural selection has acted on anatomical features associated with distinct behaviours such as flight in dinosaurs or cooking in hominins.
My research is unified by the approaches taken to answering these questions and is involved in both developing and implementing such methods for use with varied and diverse datasets.
Why did you select Reading?
I felt extremely privileged to have the opportunity to embark on a PhD within the thriving Ecology and Evolution group at the University of Reading.
Working in close association with prominent researchers in the field of phylogenetics – including one who literally wrote the book on phylogenetic methods – was an opportunity too good to pass up, as my project has a strong emphasis on the development and implementation of novel phylogenetic approaches.
Furthermore, the University of Reading has a strong academic reputation and looked like a dynamic, productive and exciting environment within which to begin my PhD journey.
What do you enjoy about studying at Reading?
The University of Reading is a beautiful and thriving environment that provides all of the necessary support and guidance needed for a stressed postgraduate student. Not only this, but the Ecology and Evolution research division is an exciting and productive group of people.
The opportunity for academic conversations are plentiful, and this is truly inspirational. I feel intellectually challenged every day by the strong academic influences around me, but this is balanced by a cohesive support network provided by both the department and the University as a whole.
What has been your biggest challenge since starting your research?
The biggest challenge I have faced since starting my research has been learning to manage my own anxiety. It is often the case that PhD students feel as though they are not up to the mark – a situation I have experienced often.However, I have learned to cope with this by fighting through it and doing the best I possibly can do.
This effort, combined with the support I have received from my supervisors and colleagues has allowed me to produce exciting and publishable scientific work. Ultimately, it has been possible to overcome these challenges in a rewarding and fulfilling way.
What advice would you give a new postgraduate researcher?
When you first embark upon a PhD, it's possible that you might feel alone and not up to the job. However, it is important to remember that everybody feels like this at times and, if it were true, it's unlikely that you would have even been offered the opportunity to study for a PhD in the first place.
I would advise early stage PhD students to take advantage of the social and enrichment opportunities provided by the Doctoral and Researcher College to help with this. You should never feel alone!
Where do you want to be in five years' time?
I would like to be a research leader in my field and at the forefront of phylogenetic macro-evolutionary studies.
I hope to be exploring and answering as many exciting questions as I have done over the last few years. I am looking forward to following the path this takes me along, from different places to different people to different exciting research areas.
Ultimately, I hope that the work I will have done or will be doing in five years' time contributes to inspiring a new generation of evolutionary biologists to follow the same path.