Explorathon 2017

Explorathon returned to St Andrews on Friday 29th September and it was a huge success!


Explorathon is an extravaganza of discovery, debate and entertainment that takes place on European Researchers’ Night at universities throughout Scotland. University of St Andrews researchers from the across the Arts, Humanities and Sciences put on a spectacular evening of activities, open to all. It is a major event on the public engagement calendar and was hugely successful, drawing vast numbers of attendees to explore climate change, dig up archaeology, go on torchlight tours of the Bell Pettigrew Museum and much more.


School of Biology researchers were well represented in the diverse shows and research fair that Explorathon had to offer. For example, the How We Think: From Animals to AI panel discussion, chaired by Dr Katrina Falkenberg, explored intelligence, cognition, culture and problem solving across the animal kingdom and beyond. Prof Sue Healy described her research in bird cognition (pictured), alongside Dr Amanda Seed, Prof Ian Gent, Dr Luke Rendell and Prof Andy Whiten. Researchers from SMRU delivered the activity, SNAP!, in which participants could have a go at identifying individual whales, dolphins and seals using photographs and natural markings. Kevin Laland gave a talk on his latest book, Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony, winner the BPS Book Award for Academic Monograph. A diverse team of brave academics delivered Bright Club – academic standup comedy – with Helen Spence-Jones performing her debut alongside seasoned comedian Dr Kate Cross and four others. Another popular show was the XX factor, an audience-judged competition in which female researchers pitch their work in 3 minutes. Brittany Jones (Biology) won the day-time schools competition, Frances Entwistle (Biology) brought home gold in the evening competition and Fiona Macfarlane won the online competition (Mathematics and Statistics).


Visit the Explorathon website for the full program of events.

The SOI Early Careers Network welcome day

Over the summer of 2017, young scientists at the Scottish Oceans Institute (SOI) set up an early careers network (ECN) within the department to discuss project ideas, share resources and learn from others’ experiences within research. The group has been incredibly successful, with over 50 members on the mailing list and meetings once or twice a week to address whatever our members feel they currently need help with, providing a responsive support system with a relaxed, friendly environment.


Last week we held a welcome day for all the new post doctoral researchers, PhD and Masters Students arriving at the SOI in St Andrews this autumn. Our afternoon meeting aimed to give people a feel of a typical weekly discussion session, and 20 people came along to talk about academic writing, from its challenges to top tips for maximising productivity. In the evening we then held an informal meet and greet in a local St Andrews pub, giving everyone a chance to properly introduce themselves. The two events were very successful and hopefully the ECN will be a great source of feedback, help or new friends for all the early career scientists starting at the SOI this academic year!


If you are interested in coming along to our meetings, please let us know. We have a website that features all the details of our upcoming meetings, or you can email Kelly Robinson or Izzy Langley to be added to the mailing list.

International Day of Women and Girls in Science public lecture

To celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we welcome you to a public lecture by Professor Dame Linda Partridge:

Ageing Healthily: Extending Lifespans and Improving Health

Friday 10 November, 1pm at the Byre Theatre

(Rescheduled from February)

As human lifespans increase, age is proving to be a major risk factor for diseases such as cancer and in cardiovascular and neurodegenerative conditions. Genetic and environmental interventions can extend lifespan and improve health during ageing, and dietary restriction and reduced activity of nutrient-sensing signaling networks can ameliorate the effects of ageing in various organisms, possibly including humans. But understanding how to do this with fewest side-effects is crucial. This talk will discuss some of the recent discoveries, including the prospect for re-purposing existing drugs to protect against the effects of ageing.

Professor Dame Linda Partridge is co-founder of the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing and member of the Institute of Healthy Ageing at University College London. She holds a long list of honours, including Fellowship of the Royal Society, election to the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Linnean Society of London’s Darwin-Wallace Medal, and a DBE (Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire). In 2009, she was announced as one of the UKRC’s six Women of Outstanding Achievement in Science, Engineering and Technology.

The talk is free, but ticketed. Tickets are available from the Byre Box Office online, via telephone (01334 475000) or email (byreboxoffice@st-andrews.ac.uk), or from admin staff in the Harold Mitchell/Dyers Brae (Lianne Baker/Katrina Falkenberg), SOI (Jane Williamson) and the BMS (Andy Cole). We welcome researchers, students and members of the public alike.

The talk will be introduced by the University Principal, Sally Mapstone, and celebrates the United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Each year, the School of Biology’s Equality and Diversity Committee will host a public lecture that highlights the work of an eminent biologist to celebrate some of the outstanding science being done by women.

Early career researchers are invited to meet with Professor Partridge before the talk. Please contact Katrina Falkenberg (kjf5@st-andrews.ac.uk) if interested.

Royal Society 2017 URF Success

Two of our postdoctoral researchers, Ellen Garland and Lauren Guillette, were awarded Royal Society University Research Fellowships in this year’s competition.  This is a fantastic achievement for the department to receive two of these prestigious awards.  Lauren has now accepted an offer of a permanent post as an Assistant Professor of Comparative Cognition and Behaviour at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Canada (starting in July 2018) and so had to decline her fellowship.  Ellen has accepted the award and will continue her research here in St Andrews on the cultural transmission of vocal behaviours, vocal learning and geographic variation in vocalisations.

Success in the 2017 promotions round

Many congratulations to the seven members of staff who were successful in the annual Promotion round:

Clare Peddie, Sue Healy and Christian Rutz were promoted to Professor.

David Ferrier and Michael Morrissey were promoted to Reader.

Gerald Prescott and Jacqueline Nairn were promoted to Senior Lecturer.

This is a very well deserved recognition of talent and hard work!

STEM for Britain

STEM for Britain, a poster competition at Westminster, aims to strengthen the dialogue between Parliament and the science community and gives early-career researchers the opportunity to present their work in London. For the Biological and Biomedical session, 60 early career researchers from all over the UK were shortlisted from hundreds of applications. The School of Biology was well represented with three PhD students, Faith Jones, Barbara Klump and Ginny Greenway, from the Centre of Biological Diversity being selected to present their work in Parliament. The students enjoyed preparing a poster for a lay audience as it challenged them to present the key messages and broader implications of the work in a way to engage non-experts. Due to unforeseen circumstances (the Brexit debate in the House of Commons took place at the same time as the Biological and Biomedical session), fewer MPs were able to attend the event than anticipated. Nevertheless, it was an excellent experience to showcase the work to a wide variety of people, amongst them expert judges (recognised senior biologists from a wide variety of subject backgrounds), other presenters and the media. Barbara’s poster, entitled ‘crafty crows know their tools’, received positive feedback on the day, a lot of attention on social media (see twitter account @STEM4Brit) and was mentioned in the session’s closing speech. Barbara had very inspiring and challenging discussions about the work and attending the poster presentation in Parliament was a good opportunity to explain her research to a wide variety of different audiences. Barbara is grateful to the Public Engagement and Recruitment Committee of the School of Biology for funding the trip to London. Pictures of the event can be found at http://www.setforbritain.org.uk/gallery/browse.asp?dir=2017+biosciences.

Bring your kids to work day

We held the Biology Department’s second “Bring your kids to work day” this week. Thursday 4th May was an inset day so local schoolchildren had the day off school. Prof. Will Cresswell provided a fantastic schedule for the sixteen kids, who took part in a miniature Bioblitz. Based in the Bell-Pettigrew museum, they went on a hunt to document the species inhabiting the Bute gardens. They set a mist net for passing birds, catching a goldfinch and a blue tit, which they watched getting ringed for re-identification. They set pitfall traps for invertebrates – and found woodlice, ants, caterpillars and flies. Field guides were consulted and overall they recorded 46 species. They also took the chance to investigate their specimens more closely under microscopes, discovering hidden details such as the mite on a dead bumblebee! And to top it all off they put together a PowerPoint presentation highlighting the ‘best bits’ to show their parents in one of the Bute lecture theatres. A lovely way for our kids to have a day at the Department!

Teaching Excellence awards

Congratulations to Prof Will Cresswell and Dr Rona Ramsay, who received Teaching Excellence awards at the annual award ceremony this week.

Will was recognised with a University Teaching Excellence award for his sustained contribution to the development and delivery of training in quantitative skills in Biology.

Rona received a student-nominated award for Academic Mentorship – a fitting recognition for her dedication in this area over the years.

Work-life balance in marine mammal science

A new article on the challenges of work-life balance in marine mammal science has just come out – published (appropriately) in the journal Marine Mammal Science.  This opinion piece from Sascha Hooker at the Sea Mammal Research Unit here in St Andrews together will colleagues in the USA explores suggestions for action.

The open access article can be found here.


It is widely acknowledged that family and care-giving responsibilities are driving women away from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.  Marine mammal science often incurs heavy fieldwork and travel obligations, which make it a challenging career in which to find work-life balance. This opinion piece explores gender equality, equity (the principles of fairness that lead to equality), and work-life balance in science generally and in this field in particular.  We aim to (1) raise awareness of these issues among members of the Society for Marine Mammalogy, (2) explore members’ attitudes and viewpoints collected from an online survey and further discussion at a biennial conference workshop in 2015 and (3) make suggestions for members to consider for action, or for the Board of Governors to consider in terms of changes to policy or procedures.  Leaks in our pipeline – the attrition of women, and others with additional caring responsibilities – represent an intellectual and economic loss.  By striving for equity and promoting work-life balance, we will help to ensure a healthy and productive Society better able to succeed in its aims promoting education, high quality research, conservation and management of marine mammals.

Speaker suggestions for International Day of Women and Girls in Science

In preparation for next year’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the School’s Equality and Diversity Committee would like your suggestions for an eminent female scientist to invite to speak about her work in February 2018.

As you may be aware, our event for this year with Professor Dame Linda Partridge had to be postponed due to a flight cancellation. We are hoping to reschedule Linda’s talk for autumn 2017, but will also be preparing for another event in 2018.

For this 2018 event, we would like to receive suggestions from any member of staff (women, men, academic, research, professional, etc). Please send your suggestion for a speaker along with a sentence about why you are nominating her to Nora Hanson (nnh@st-andrews.ac.uk) by 19th May.