Woo! Thanks guys
Favourite Thing: Fieldwork – I get to do science and be outside at the same time!
Sixth Form College Farnborough 2004-2006, University of Cambridge 2006-2010, University of Oxford 2011-Present
BA(Hons) in Natural Sciences, MSci in Geological Science
I’ve worked in a lot of places, including the Science Museum in London, in a zoo, on a radio show, at a ski center and in a pub.
PhD research student
Department of Earth Sciences at The University of Oxford
Me and my work
I use fossils of ancient animals, from dinosaurs and tigers to seashells and starfish, to understand how extinction and evolution happen.
Evolution is a process that takes thousands or millions of years, so if we want to understand it properly we have to find out what happened to life in the distant past, not just look at things that are alive today. The best way to find out what life used to be like, and how it has changed, is to look at fossils – where parts of living things have been preserved in ancient rocks. Unfortunately fossils are usually only tiny pieces of the animal, so it can take a long time to figure out what they used to be from.
Part of my work is to go find these fossils (like dinosaurs and ancient fish) and then investigate them to figure out what kind of creature they were. Another part is to collect lots of data about many different fossils, and do analyses on the data to try to understand how evolution happens, and when and why extinctions happen.
I also write computer programs and then I use the data I have collected along with the programs, to make simulations of evolution and exticntion happening. I can change things in my simulations to see what controls extinction, so that I can understand it, and maybe use the information to help other people prevent extinctions in the future.
My Typical Day
In the office simulating evolution on my computer, or looking at and measuring fossils to collect lots of data.
I cycle to work in the morning and get there just before 9. The first thing I usually do is check and answer my emails, and then see if any other scientists that work on similar things to me have released any interesting new research. I often teach students in the mornings, so if it’s one of those days I’ll go down to the classroom and help get out all the fossils or rocks that they are going to learn about, or get the computers ready, then answer all of their questions.
After that if I’m making a computer program I’ll go to my office and work on it for a while. If not then I usually collect data about fossils, either by reading research that other people have done, or by looking at the fossils myself.
I usually go have lunch with my friends for about an hour, and then afterwards I do some work for my university’s science magazine. I’m the broadcast editor so I make the podcast and have to edit lots of audio recordings. Most afternoons I take computer programs I have written and use them to do analysis and statistical tests on the data that I have collected, then think about the results that I get from them, and what it means about how evolution and extinction happen.
At the end of the day I always do something relaxing like play sport, watch TV, or go to the pub with my friends.
What I'd do with the money
Set up a website where school pupils can blog and podcast about science that they’re interested in, and have debates with each other and scientists.
I would make a website with lots of different blogs where school pupils of any age could submit articles they had written about science they have done, or that they find interesting.
It would also have a page for podcasts where pupils could post interviews with scientists, record debates in class about scientific issues, or just discuss work they have done or ideas that they have.
Blogs could be set up based on themes with lots of pupils contributing, or schools or individuals could have their own blog page.
I would get professional scientists (like the ones on I’m a Scientist), and science communicators involved, to discuss ideas with students, and help them work on their science, writing, podcasting and communicating skills.
This could be something that teachers could organise work for in class, or something that individual pupils could contribute to themselves.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Energetic, Creative, Inquisitive
Who is your favourite singer or band?
At the moment I’m listening to Mumford and Sons, and Florence and the Machine a lot, but I love anything I can dance to.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Going to Antarctica, I got to swim in freezing antarctic water with the penguins and walk on icebergs!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To keep getting paid to do science and talk about it. To find out something with my research that will help us to understand extinction better and plan conservation of species in the future. To get a free unlimited travel pass to anywhere in the world so that I can see all the amazing natural things on the planet.
What did you want to be after you left school?
An astronaut, it hasn’t happened yet but geologists will be needed if people go to other planets, so who knows!
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
Not often, only when I didn’t understand something, then I would ask lots of questions and argue with the teacher until I understood properly.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Hiked to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. I did loads of experiments on myself on the way up to find out how the body is affected by being at high altitude.
Tell us a joke.
Why can’t your hand be 12 inches long? Because then it would be a foot!
My first degree was in geology – studying rocks and how the Earth works, and then I specialised in Palaeontology, studying fossils and life on Earth in the past. The best thing about these subjects is that a lot of the time the outdoors is your office. Lots of the best places to find fossils are next to the sea. This is a place I went to do fieldwork:
This is in Dorset on the south coast of England where I was teaching some students about how the rocks in the cliffs were formed:
This is me next to an awesomely huge dinosaur footprint we came across after a long hike in the mountains in Bolivia: