Researcher Spotlight - Lucy Cotgrove

Lucy Cotgrove portraitCan you remind us about your PhD?
I am looking at the mechanisms of leadership in collective behaviour, focusing on schools of fish. I’m testing how this dynamic changes under different conditions and also incorporating physiological measures. For example, is the leader when foraging different from the fish that presents itself as the leader when facing a predator? 

Why did you decide to do your PhD in IBACHM?
The department came highly recommended and I was advised to look up Shaun Killen’s research by Robyn Womack (an old friend from Aberystwyth). When this PhD was advertised, I saw that the project really aligned with my interests and I was lucky enough to get the position!

What do you find most interesting about your work?
I get to do a mixture of practical lab-work as well as computer-based analysis, so every day is different. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to China and Germany for collaborations, as many different projects are happening at the same time.

What has been the most positive aspect so far?
Making breakthroughs with work or completing long-standing projects feels great and like you’ve really made an achievement. Also, the supportive nature of IBAHCM and the community that’s around you while working is great.

What has been the most challenging aspect so far?
Prioritising my time between the tasks I really enjoy and the things I need to get done. Accepting that some bits of work will never be perfect but that’s okay and normal!

How has your research progressed since we last heard from you?
So far, I have been collecting data and learning methods, so I am just about to start analysing data from my first project and also start video analysis of my second project. No break-throughs as of yet but watch this space!

Are you where you thought you would be a year ago?
One thing I learnt in my first year was that you have to be adaptable – things change all the time, and also take longer than expected, so where I thought I would be was really different compared to just starting last year.

Which part of your research have you enjoyed the most/felt most proud of?
I presented my work at an international conference (SEB) in June. I was really nervous beforehand, but I got through it and I’m really proud of myself!

Have you come up against any unforeseen challenges?
Again, learning to be adaptable and overcoming unexpected problems in work, such as technological difficulties or programmes not working as you expect it to, is part of a PhD: this stuff just happens and can’t be helped. 

What are the most important lessons you have learnt from your first year?
Just go with the flow! There’s more to life than PhD stuff, so go do something unrelated to your work and take a break. It isn’t a competition about how many hours you are working or how stressed you are; just enjoy your work and project for what it is and chat to others when you’re feeling stressed.

If you could tell your first-year-self 1 thing, what would it be?
Don’t stress now because you’ll have bigger fish to fry later!  

First published: 18 October 2018