Researcher Spotlight : Natasha Walker-Milne

Published: 5 March 2019

Ellen Hughes puts Natasha Walker-Milne under the Spotlight to find out how she is getting on in the second year of her PhD and gets some great tips on coping with the ups and downs of research...

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Ellen Hughes puts Natasha Walker-Milne under the Spotlight to find out how she is getting on in the second year of her PhD and gets some great tips on coping with the ups and downs of research. 

Tell us about your background
My background actually came from photographic and film archive before I decided to go to university as a mature student. Having worked in a wildlife documentary footage archive as a researcher I decided that I wanted to get my degree in marine biology.

What can you tell us about your PhD research? 
I’m studying the availability of juvenile habitat on gadoid species, in this case cod, haddock and whiting, to see if any limitation of suitable habitat is the underlying reason for a less than expected recovery in stock.  For example, in the Firth of Clyde, there is no longer a commercial fishery for these species so it is prudent to look beyond direct fishing impacts. "

Why did you decide to do your PhD in IBACHM/UofG?
I did my MSci here and I do love my institute, we have some amazing researchers and PIs here, and I felt it offered a great opportunity.

Natasha Walker-Milne 02What do you find most interesting about your work?
It’s hard to say since it has all been very interesting, certainly I’m finding out new things all the time and increasing my skill set every week. At the moment I’m working on seabed habitat mapping which I’d never done before and even though I’m learning as I go I’m really enjoying the small victories when I solve each little problem as it presents itself (it makes up for all the times when you’re sitting there confused as to why your code won’t work when it did 20 minutes ago).

How has your research progressed since your first year?
I am still crunching the numbers from my field work, so at the moment I know where the juvenile fish in my study area showed spikes in abundance but I’m still working on the variables that will explain this. I’m also still working on the length measurements so that I can calculate growth rates between the different habitat zones which should give us a better picture. I’m about to begin work on some otoliths collected by Marine Scotland Science, this should give us an even fuller picture as to the effects that habitat has on growth.

Are you where you thought you would be a year ago?
Yes and no, I’m very pleased with some of the work I have done over the past year and some things didn’t work out the way I had hoped.

What part of your research so far have you enjoyed the most/felt most proud of?
I’m especially pleased with my field work, it wasn’t as if there weren’t any problems, but we got a huge amount of data which I’m very happy about considering it was my first year of data gathering. I am now finally starting to see actual results coming together from all the hard work, I’m still wrestling with all the data but certainly when you see the months of planning and field work start to coalesce into reality it’s pretty remarkable.

What has been the most challenging aspect so far?
There have been quite a few, it’s like spinning plates and sometimes you struggle to keep an eye on everything you are working on. But it is nice that here I can sit and discuss things with people I work with and they can give me a new angle I hadn’t considered before, but that leads to more plates sometimes! I had a hard drive fail with my data on it and we did lose about a week of survey work as it was corrupted so there were a few (many) tears over that!

What are the most important lessons you have learnt from your first year?
Good planning for field work makes life so much simpler, test and retest all your equipment, bring spares (something will break) and always, always back up your data!

If you could tell your first-year-self-1 thing, what would it be?
It’s ok to push yourself, but also taking time to sit and think on a problem is still in progress. When you get so far in an idea or an approach and you have to scrap it because it’s not working, it’s not so bad because you still learned something along the way, don’t be so hard on yourself. Some days you’re the windscreen other days you’re the fly.

What advice would you give to anyone doing or considering PhD?
I would say go into it with your eyes open, you’re not going to have an easy ride and not everything you aim to achieve will turn out the way you envisaged – but that’s ok. Roll with the punches.

Tell us about your plans for the future
I take one day at a time, you never know what might happen…well, passing my viva is as far as I can plan right now...

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First published: 5 March 2019