By Miss Lindsay Walker (@Linds__Walker), University of Exeter
I am thrilled to be part of Soapbox Science 2015 as I am keen to promote the ‘alternate’ view to the typical scientist stereotype. I am female, I adore wearing dresses, I bake delicious treats on a weekly basis – and I also conduct field research in a remote area of the Kalahari Desert South Africa, I lead a team of field assistants, I maintain 4×4 vehicles. Being a Behavioural Ecologist involves a wide range of skills that are not limited by gender. I aim to encourage and inspire young people, in particular females, to be aware of the amazing diversity of what and who a scientist really is. Let’s celebrate the range of diverse qualities that can lead to a successful scientific career!
My PhD research examines the drivers behind the motivation to contribute within a cooperative society. I am fascinated by apparent ‘altruistic’ behaviours, where there are hidden benefits to the individual. Why help others at a cost to yourself? Why help at levels that are different to another individual? We have all lived with people who are more likely to take the bins out, to cook for others, to provide more emotional support to others. Why are there these differences in the offer of help?
I aim to bridge the gap between behavioural ecology and endocrinology to provide insight of the mechanisms behind the decision to help another individual. To achieve this, I conduct field research on the white-browed sparrow weaver (Plocepasser mahali) in the Kalahari Desert South Africa, which is a bird that breeds cooperatively. Much like meerkats of the same region, only one male and one female in a sparrow weaver group have offspring – the remaining members help to raise the young. I am interested in exploring the effect of hormones on the decision to help, specifically the relationship between the hormone prolactin and the feeding of offspring. Additionally, I am interested in exploring the role of trade-offs within a cooperative group. Are there divisions of labour, where one type of individual will partake and excel in one type of activity? Or are there overall ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cooperators in a society? Lastly, I am also fascinated at how selfish motivations affect both the decision to help and the extent to which help is offered.
I am exceptionally lucky to be able to conduct this research while being surrounded by beautiful African flora and fauna. I genuinely believe that the best commute in the world is to my field site; glimpsing brown hyenas at dusk, watching bat-eared fox cubs play under moonlight, hearing mountain zebra snorting at sunrise.
I have also developed my passion for translating research outputs into society by co-founding Unpackage Me, an initiative to raise awareness of the ecological impacts associated with throwaway plastic. Along with Dr Jennifer Sanderson, we have lead workshops and public engagement events to promote the sustainable use of plastic to children, teenagers and adults. Our 2015 Campaign aims to integrate with sustainability policies that affect the local community, encouraging best recycling practices and promoting efficient and sustainable use of plastic resources.
Fascinated with the interface between science and policy, I have recently completed a three-month Fellowship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology based at Westminster. I researched and published a short briefing note focussing on current science and technology issues involving herbicide resistance in the UK agricultural sector. This Fellowship was a fantastic opportunity to highlight the capacity of science to impact policy and societal issues.
Overall, I am passionate about stimulating interest in ecological research, increasing awareness of the link between science and policy, in addition to promoting the understanding of the wider implications of research on society. Bring on Soapbox Science 2015!