Researcher Spotlight : Bethany Smith

Published: 7 February 2019

Kirsty McWhinnie has tracked down Bethany Smith for this week's Researcher Spotlight. Bethany is a 1st Year PhD Student working on evolution and plasticity in Icelandic Sticklebacks...

‌‌Bethany smith article picCan you tell us about your background? How did you become interested in science and where did you study before Glasgow?
I’m a first year PhD student working on evolution and plasticity in Icelandic sticklebacks supervised by Dr Kevin Parsons. I became interested in science because I love finding out new information and figuring out how things work. On top of that, I’ve always had a passion for nature and animals; I grew up in the middle of the Scottish countryside with nothing but nature, so animal science was a good match for me. I achieved an MSci in Zoology at the University of Glasgow, with a sandwich year at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Konstanz in Germany. After graduating, I started volunteering with Dr Parsons’ lab and eventually became a temporary lab technician. I got to help out with lots of really interesting projects and eventually it turned into planning my own PhD project!

What can you tell us about your PhD research?
I’m working on evolution and plasticity in Icelandic three-spined sticklebacks across thermal habitats. Iceland has a lot of geothermal activity so there are lots of water systems with thermal gradients that can be extreme. I am interested in investigating how evolutionary adaptation and phenotypic plasticity have helped fish on the warm side cope.  I’m doing some work on sticklebacks we have in the laboratory where we have warm and cold fish from different lake systems with families split in half and raised at warm and cold temperatures. I’ve gathered their brains and livers and I’ll be looking at the gene expression profiles to see how they’ve adapted and what their plastic responses are. I’ll also be going on a field trip to Iceland to perform a reciprocal transplant experiment to look at this in the wild. To sum up, my project mainly focuses on evolution and plasticity in response to warmer thermal habitats.

Why did you decide to do your PhD in IBACHM/UofG?
I did my MSci degree here and it was a really enjoyable experience for me, the institute is very warm and inclusive, and I feel very comfortable here. In addition, Glasgow is a great city and I love living here.

What do you find most interesting about your work?
I think my project is really cool because we can use these geothermal systems as a natural experiment to look into the future of climate change and hopefully learn something about how freshwater fish may adapt and change to cope with a warmer environment.

What has been the most positive aspect so far?
I’ve really enjoyed meeting new people at the institute and hearing about all the interesting projects going on here. There are also lots of fun social events – I went ice skating for the first time recently and it was great!

What has been the most challenging aspect so far?
So far, the most challenging aspect for me has been getting my head around RNA-seq data analysis and setting up cloud computing for handling the data. Luckily for me I have some time before I have to work with my data so I’m currently working on learning more about that.

What advice would you give to anyone doing or considering PhD?
Something that has really helped me, both before and after starting my PhD, has been the large community of PhD students and other researchers on twitter. It’s a super helpful way to hear about events, opportunities, interesting new papers and many other things that get passed through the grapevine. I also found it very reassuring to read about other people’s PhD experiences and their advice, especially when it comes to imposter syndrome. So, my advice would be to have a look around on twitter and remember that you’re not alone!

Tell us about your plans for the future
I’m not 100% sure what I want to do after my PhD, but I know that I will want to keep working with animals and in science.

First published: 7 February 2019