Scientific evidence needs to inform important decisions: Meet Dawn Scott

Dawn Scott joined the University of Brighton in 2001, where she researches the interactions between humans and wildlife, in particular urban animals. A regular on TV shows including Countryfile, Springwatch, the One show and other productions with BBC and Channel 4, Dawn will be on the soapbox at Brighton’s inaugural event on 29th July, 1-4pm, discussing “City nights with the wild furry urbanites: do you know what happens in your garden after dark?” Thanks to The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour for sponsoring Dawn’s appearance.



SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?

DS: The most fascinating aspect of my research is finding out how humans and wildlife live together in cities, the complex interrelations between them and how each affect the other behaviour.



SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science? 

DS: When I was growing up my step dad had an inquisitive mind, he is always asking what and why and trying to find out more about things. He also has a passion for adventure and travelling so we went on adventures together such as camping trips and road trips around Scotland. He gave me a passion for the outdoors, trained me in sleeping in wet sleeping bags and eating cold baked beans from a can, showed me the beauty of wilderness areas and made me realise that after one answer there is another question!



SS: How did you get to your current position?

DS: I did my BSc in Biology at Durham University and started to focus my interests on mammals and behavioural ecology. I then went on to do a 4 year PhD in Jordan on desert mammal ecology. Straight after submitting my PhD I went to Zambia and did a year of working as a post-doc in a game reserve in Zambia surveying biodiversity. I applied to be a lecturer at Brighton University whilst in Zambia and luckily got the position. I have been at Brighton University ever since and been promoted to Principal Lecturer as well as undertaking several managerial and leadership roles.



SS: Research in STEMM is becoming increasingly multi-disciplinary. Which STEMM (science, tech, engineering, maths, medicine) subjects do you use in your work?

DS: I use many aspects of STEMM in my work. Behavioural and Conversation Ecology are science based discipline and to undertake ecology requires lots of maths. There are usually large varied data sets that you have to try to make sense of – and only maths can help with that. I also use technology and engineering by developing ways in which we can remotely study and follow animals to understand their behaviour, such as GPS collars and camera traps. We also use digital technology to help engage with the public to collect and share information. Wildlife and the environment are also important in health studies; for example, animal behaviour can affect disease risk and transmission, so I also need to be aware of animal and human health issues.



SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place – and why Brighton? 

DS: I am based in Brighton and much of my research goes on around the street of Brighton at night! I enjoy chatting to people about urban animals, their relationships and their views. Everyone has a story and experience to share and it is nice opportunity to engage with people in the streets that don’t usually have a scientist to hand to ask a burning question when they need to. I liked the idea of doing soapbox science as it enables me to work with other female scientists to share this experience with them so we can support each other and for me to learn new cool things about subjects they are passionate about as well.



SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – Excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?

DS: Challenging



SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be? 

DS: Scientific evidence is being used to inform rather than to be the basis of decisions. Opinion (sometimes founded on no factual information) seems to be becoming more important in the decision making processes. I would like to see more recognition of the value of scientific evidence to inform important decisions.



SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?

DS: Have confidence in yourself and your abilities!



SS: What words of encouragement would you give to children who might be interested in a career in science?

DS: Science is exciting. You get to ask and try to answer questions all the time. A career in science means you get an opportunity to get paid to do something you are passionate about and love doing.

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