This is a repost of an article I was invited to write for the Academic Life Histories Blog, a great collection of articles about navigating academia. See it here.
I always knew in the back of my mind I wanted to have children. However, I never really thought about when that would be. About halfway through my PhD that started to change. Work was progressing well and I was really enjoying the freedom of being able to dive deep into my own research interests. I was fortunate to have my own scholarship and a great supervisor who gave me all the freedom I wanted but was also there for me for long chats about science and academia. I was making my own plans and working according to my own schedule, which wasn’t exactly always nine to five. After some time, I suddenly started to realise that these conditions were actually pretty ideal for having a child and that, as I wanted to have children anyway at some point, why wait?
Towards the end of my third year as a PhD student my son was born. As I was doing my doctorate in the UK, that unfortunately also meant that I only had a few months of funding left. I took a couple weeks of paternity leave and, when my son was about five weeks old, flew with my family to Southern Germany for a job interview. I was lucky to get offered a postdoc position. I still had my PhD to finish though…
After three years I have completed my PhD thesis and just handed it in! It feels strange to finally have the product in my hands of so much work over the years. ∞
Just over three years ago I was standing up to my waist in cold water, somewhere in the vicinity of Cambridge. I was catching sticklebacks for the first experiments of my PhD. Now, 37 months later, I am in the final stages of writing-up and will actually hand in my thesis in ten days time! During this last chapter of my PhD, I have also become a dad and am actually writing this with my 5 month-old son in the carrier on my chest. Luckily, after a nice walk with our dog in the cold autumn air, he has fallen vast asleep.
If it wasn’t for all funding falling away at the 3 year mark, one and a half month ago, I would be continuing with some additional exciting data chapters of which I already got the data. However, with five data chapters, two of which are published and two have been accepted, I have enough exciting work to talk about. In the months to come, I will be wrapping up a lot of small and large stickleback projects that I have done over the years and that have not made it into my thesis, besides some nice collaborative studies, and will continue with further experiments on the link between personality and collective behaviour as a Postdoc!
Now, time to get back to thesis writing..
Today I finished my last experiment that will be part of my PhD! I have been locked away in the lab for a couple weeks, testing hundreds of fish on their personality and collective behaviour, but now analysis and writing can fully start. I must have tested close to a thousand fish in the two and a half year since the start of my PhD, most of which are now enjoying a happy end of their lives back in the wild. I have all the data of a number of exciting projects that will not need me to go back to the lab for at least half a year but I can actually not wait to test my next hypothesis! The three-spine stickleback is an amazing species to work with and I will definitely continue working with them after my PhD.
Everyone knows that our personality plays a large role in daily life, from our need for adventure and our desire to hang out with friends, to our discipline in work and our compassion with others. But when we talk about personalities in animals, or non-human animals as I like to say, many may feel it is different. Although most people use personality related terms when talking about our pets, the majority of people may still believe personality is a uniquely human characteristic. The interesting thing is, personalities exist throughout the animal kingdom!
Until about ten years ago researchers talked about the behaviour of animals in general terms, ignoring the behavioural variation between individuals because it was considered ‘noise around the mean’. However, during the last ten years, more and more researches have shown that personalities exist in a wide range of species. From birds to bees, all species so far investigated show that individuals often behave very different from one another and do so consistently throughout their lives in a similar way like we do ourselves. For example, some individuals might be bolder or more aggressive while others are more sociable and tend to follow others.