Researcher Spotlight : Heather McDevitt

Published: 21 February 2019

Kirsty McWhinnie caught up with Heather McDevitt to chat about her current research and plans for the future...

Heather McDevitt article picCan you tell us about your background? How did you become interested in science and where did you study before Glasgow?
I knew I wanted to work in science from a young age but was never sure what area I was most interested in. I started out my undergraduate degree here at Glasgow in Neuroscience, briefly switched to Anatomy, considered Chemistry or Pharmacology, but after taking some ecology courses in second year I made the final switch to Zoology. I really enjoyed learning about the quantitative methods used to answer important conservation questions in my final year, so I stayed at Glasgow to do the MSc in Quantitative Methods in Biodiversity, Conservation & Epidemiology last year. Now I’m in my first year of PhD research but it’s my sixth year here at Glasgow.

What can you tell us about your PhD research?
My PhD is titled “Animal movement, ecological integrity and sustainable infrastructure development in sub-Saharan Africa”. The main goal of my project is to integrate assessments of how animal movement is impacted by large-scale infrastructure (e.g. roads, railways or fences) into development planning. Movement throughout a landscape has been demonstrated to be important in many populations and ecosystem level processes, such as metapopulation stability, food web stability & disease dynamics. It’s also known that infrastructure can interrupt normal movement patterns through direct collisions, increased human disturbance and habitat loss and fragmentation. Despite this, the current impact assessment process completely ignores animal movement. I hope to be able to develop methods that will robustly and rapidly predict the impacts of a given infrastructure project on animal movement, and that these predictions will be utilised in impact assessments.

Why did you decide to do your PhD in IBACHM/UofG?
Having carried out my previous degrees here I knew how welcoming, collaborative and interdisciplinary IBACHM is and was keen to stay here if possible. When my dream PhD was advertised, I jumped at the chance and was lucky enough to get selected!

What do you find most interesting about your work?
I love that every day is an opportunity to learn something new.

What has been the most positive aspect so far?
I’ve really enjoyed becoming integrated in the research community at IBACHM, through demonstrating on some of the MSc courses and helping organise the Spatial Ecology special interest group (SIG), as well as attending regular seminars and other SIGs. Everyone is doing interesting work and it’s rewarding to regularly share expertise and ideas!

What has been the most challenging aspect so far?
The most challenging part for me has definitely been adapting to the new way of working. Having spent 5 years surrounded by constant, short-term deadlines it’s been tricky figuring out how to get work done without deadlines hanging over me.

What advice would you give to anyone doing or considering PhD?
While it’s obviously important to love your project, make sure to think carefully about where you will be based and who you will be working with. Doing a PhD is a marathon and you want to make sure you’re surrounded by supportive people ready to lend a helping hand when you come across inevitable challenges. I’d also say to make sure to get involved with as much as you can in and around your department. There’s a wealth of diverse knowledge and opportunities around you – take advantage of that!

Tell us about your plans for the future
I’ve still got a long way to go with the PhD so who knows how my interests will develop over the next four years. I’m definitely passionate about working at the science-policy interface, making sure that academic research is accessible to management, and that requirements for conservation management are where research resources are focused.

Heather will be giving us a rundown of some of her research as part of the Friday Seminar Series in the GKB Lecture Theatre 1, Feb 22, starting at 4pm. Why not come along and give her your support?

First published: 21 February 2019