22nd October 2018 – Katherine Raines, Univeristy of Stirling

Katherine RainesI have recently finished my PhD at the University of Stirling. My PhD investigated the effects of low dose chronic ionising radiation to bumblebees as part of the NERC Radioactivity and the Environment (RATE) programme.

My fieldwork involves visits to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and laboratory-based experiments to gain understanding as to what has happened to the wildlife over 30 years post-accident. The focus of my research has been at looking at life history endpoints in bumblebees such as reproduction and lifespan to understand if radiation dose rates found at Chernobyl cause damage to invertebrates. A development during my research resulted in a focus on the interactions between parasite infection and radiation dose rate both in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and in the laboratory.

Presently, I am preparing for my PhD viva and trying to put together a meta-analysis of the data on effects of radiation from research that we have undertaken during the programme on a range of different species.

I am just about to start a NERC knowledge exchange fellowship for the RATE programme. Pulling together all the research from across the wide-ranging programme and making it available for users such as regulators and governments. This research ranges from the physics and geology relating to the planning of the Geological Disposal Facility for high-level radioactive waste which has been proposed for the UK, the chemistry of how radionuclides move in the environment and in particular into human food chains and the biology of effects of radiation to wildlife.

Outside of academia, I love gardening, dressmaking and keeping two stepchildren off the Xbox by running around in the Scottish outdoors.

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25th June 2018 – Lewis Bartlett, University of Exeter & University of California Berkeley

Lewis BartlettI’m Lewis – a PhD researcher at University of Exeter, and a visiting researcher at University of California Berkeley. I’m also in collaboration with the University of Georgia (USA), Emory University (USA), and Heriot-Watt University (UK).

My work is currently focussed on better understanding the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases, current declines of both domestic and wild bees, and the relationships between the two. I’m a huge bee enthusiast – and teach / certify beekeepers as part of my work. Speaking with beekeepers is a big part of what I do – and necessitates a different understanding of science communication compared to public outreach. Prior to bees and diseases, I worked on ice-age extinctions, habitat fragmentation, and arguably the world’s most ambitious ecological simulation. My research dips into a massive variety of techniques – from the field to the lab to statistics to differential equation modelling.

Doing research and holding positions in two different continents has given me a two-point perspective on the lives of PhD researchers, and the differences are pretty profound. There’s things to be learnt from all systems.

As far as non-research academic activities go, I count teaching and learning as a big part of my interests – both at the school and University levels. Comparing approaches to university teaching between Britain and the US has been an eye-opening experience. In particular, teaching quantitative skills & programming is a devotion of mine (for better or for worse!).

Understanding access, diversity, and inclusion in ecology is also a topic close to my heart (as both a first-generation, working class university graduate and a ragingly flamboyant gay man). Seeing again how these issues differ between the UK and the US is remarkable in approaches and nuance.

Expect hot-takes on bees, on diseases, on outreach, teaching, and moving around as part of academic ecology in this week’s Biotweeps coverage – probably punctuated with makeup, nail polish, and countless examples of how bees and other insects influence art & fashion.

19th February 2018 – Meghan Barrett – Drexel University

Meghan BarrettMeghan Barrett is a PhD student at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. She studies arthropod neuroanatomy (a.k.a. bug brains), human and environmentally friendly pesticides, and bee diversity. Meghan is just getting started with her thesis work where she hopes to focus on the dimorphic males of the desert species Centris pallida (a beautiful, pale, fuzzy bee with huge ‘chaps’ on the legs).

Meghan is also earning her Masters in Undergraduate STEM Education through the Drexel PROFESS program, studying evidence-based techniques for teaching biology. In her ‘spare’ time, she enjoys pairing her love of science with her love of writing – she earned her B.S. in Biology and English/Creative Writing at SUNY Geneseo in New York. Meghan’s ecological poetry can be found on her website, meghan-barrett.com, right next to blog posts, a podcast interview, science articles, a bioethics play, and an interactive high-fantasy gamebook app.

The last of her time is spent kayaking/hiking/rock climbing with her fiancé, Alex, watching League of Legends eSports (her current favorite team in the world is Gigabyte Marines but TSM is obviously the best in the NALCS), playing with her cross-eyed cat, Nyx, and writing, then burying, her fiction novels.

Meghan is excited to talk about science in drama, insects, writing, and undergraduate STEM education on Biotweeps, and can’t wait to converse about all her favorite topics!

21st August – Rachael Bonoan, Tufts University

Rachel BonoanHi! My name is Rachael and I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Starks Lab at Tufts University in Medford, MA. As a lab, we study behavioral ecology to understand how animals deal with environmental pressures. My research focuses on how seasonal changes in honey bee diet (i.e. flowers!) affects honey bee health and behavior.

When we go to the grocery store, we have a lot of choices. While our choices do change with season (try to find pumpkins in the summer, or berries in the winter), those choices tend to remain diverse. The “grocery store” for honey bees is our lawns, our gardens, etc., and the choices aren’t always diverse. In the early New England spring, honey bees only have dandelions or clovers to choose from. The summer brings a more diverse choice of flower foods and in the fall, the main choices are goldenrod and aster. How might honey bees change their foraging habitats to cope with the lack of choices? How could the lack of choices alter the honey bee gut microbiome? How does a lack of diet diversity affect the honey bee’s immune system?

These are just the broad questions I am interested in answering during my Ph.D. One of the first studies I did as a Ph.D. student was on honey bees drinking dirty water—you can read about what I found here. Also, check out my personal website to follow my adventures in field biology and beekeeping!

Outside of my research, I enjoy communicating science to the public and am the President of the Boston Area Beekeepers Association. I can also be found playing middle infield for the Tufts Biology Department softball team (Base Pairs), kickboxing at a nearby gym, baking (especially brownies and cookies), crawling on the ground photographing insects, or visiting my waterside hometown in Rhode Island.