We caught up with PhD student Stuart Negus from Queen Mary, University of London, to chat about what got him interested in conservation, his PhD, his field trips (jealous!), and, obviously, to see some cool drone shots!
Quick fire questions
ConCon: Favourite animal?
SN: Difficult to answer but I think either a bear/gorilla/parrot.
ConCon: Favourite field work destination?
SN: Costa Rica!
ConCon: Next holiday (if you could go anywhere and COVID wasn’t an issue!)?
SN: All roads lead to Mexico!
📸 Roberto Isotti
Stuart’s PhD and research
ConCon: Tell us a little about your PhD
SN: I use drones to determine what drives population and community dynamics across spatial and temporal scales in marine systems, using turtles as my reference species! So basically, I spy on turtles and see what they get up to!
ConCon: How did you get into marine ecology? Did you always want to become a scientist?
SN: Funnily enough, I wanted to be a vet but this didn’t quite work out… so instead I chose marine and freshwater ecology! I’ve always been fascinated by the things in the ocean more than on land, all the cool stuff happens under the waves! I think it was my destiny really to come into science – when I was a kid I was an absolute wizard on dinosaur species and their taxonomy!
ConCon: Have you got any family members working in STEM subjects or that have done a PhD?
SN: I am the first ever (on my mum and dad’s side of the family) to ever get onto a PhD! My brother is following in my footsteps, albeit on the dark side (he’s doing biomedical science undergrad!)
ConCon: I know you’ve worked in amazing places, such as Costa Rica and Cape Verde, but what's been your best/funniest field work experience?
SN: My memories are rich with funny experiences, but the funniest probably has to be when I was waiting for a turtle to nest in some dunes and there may have been a couple nearby getting it on… if you get my drift
ConCon: Scariest field work experience?
SN: Not so much scary, but close encounters with the grim reaper! I’ve been in some sort of near miss/or incident involving cars (I was the passenger funnily enough) on every field work trip I have done…. Maybe I should learn to drive soon…
ConCon: What is the 1 thing you advise everyone to take into the field with them?
SN: Download all of Netflix/DisneyPlus/Amazon Prime…. The shock I had when I couldn’t access most of the streaming services for a 5 month field work trip….
ConCon: Apart from the field work, what would you say is the best thing about doing a PhD?
SN: Doing and discovering genuinely cool things, honestly it is some of the most rewarding things of my life. My office and lab mates are alright too I guess (EizaguirreLab & Fogg 6.08 you know who you are).
ConCon: Are there any hurdles you’ve had to overcome during your PhD, and if you could go back in time, what piece of advice would you give yourself at the start of your PhD?
SN: My hurdles have been the pandemic (of course). Having training and having to work completely online was some of the most challenging points in my work. Also I was diagnosed with depression before my PhD, and having to manage that, especially when life has been difficult at times, has been…well, difficult. I think the advice I would give to myself is to take your time; if it’s not going to work, do something else until you are able to.
ConCon: If you had unlimited funding, what research would you do?
SN: Army of state-of-the-art drones, with good batteries and cameras and just go global on my PhD work. Or remake dinosaurs.
ConCon: Getting a good work-life balance is extremely important. What do you do outside of your PhD to switch off?
SN: Since the pandemic has ‘eased’ I’ve hung out a lot more with people I care about, and whom care about me, when I have plenty left in the social battery tank. Otherwise, I am very content to have ‘me time’ and just watch stuff on YouTube! I am very slowly easing my way back into writing stories, which was something I used to do a lot when I was younger.
Conservation in general
ConCon: Are you optimistic for the future of marine fauna? If not, is there anything people can do at home/when they go on holiday to help?
SN: I am on the fence. I think slowing down the rate of climate change is being ambitious and collectively we all need to put in measures to mitigate the impact of climate change. I believe with this, we need to be cautious about the amount of fossil fuels/one time use items we use and to choose ecotourism that genuinely feeds back into nature and the wider community.
📸 Ben Cherry
ConCon: What are your 3 tips for people wanting to get into marine conservation, or do a PhD in a similar area?
1. Get interested in a concept of science – turtles are cool and all, but working out how certain population and community dynamics work and can/cannot be applied across many systems is even cooler!
2. Express yourself! Don’t be someone you’re not or something you think a supervisor/colleague wants you to be! I am still very much the class clown within my lab, my office and beyond
3. Be prepared to do things that aren’t immediately, or do not come across as, relevant to your PhD/marine conservation plans! You’ll be surprised at what directions some of those diversions will take you.
- Instagram profile: https://www.instagram.com/stu_707/