If you ask a random person in the street what they think a zoologist does, you might get one of two responses: TV presenter (think Steve Irwin, David Attenborough), or a zookeeper. In fact, the term “zoologist” covers a wide range of roles, from museum curators to research scientists and conservationists, in a large number of fields from ornithology to entomology to herpetology! “What’s a Zoologist?” is a new series on this blog featuring people working in a variety of fields and roles within zoology, and aims to celebrate the diversity of awesome people working in STEM!
To kick off this new blog series, I’d like to introduce you to Lucy Cotgrove (@lucy_cotgrove), fish biologist, crafts extraordinaire, and general awesome person.
Hey Lucy, tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m a PhD student at the University of Glasgow studying leadership in collective behaviour, and I’m focusing on fish. I studied Zoology at Aberystwyth University, followed by an MSc at Bangor University, so I’ve really stuck to the Celtic countries haha! I’ve got a background in aquaculture, and hoping to apply my studies to further work in sustainable seafood – but that’s not for a while yet!
Can you tell us more about what your research involves?
Luckily, as a fish biologist, I’m able to spend time in aquariums performing experiments or even in the field! I was lucky enough to spend time in Mallorca surveying the Bay of Palma for my Masters, and I’m off to China in March. There’s a lot of video analysis that comes with behavioural studies, so if I’m not out and about, I’ll be working on collecting data from footage and writing up my work. Right now, I’m working on analysing who is the leader in a school of fish using tracking programs.
I love the videos! Is there anything in science that you are excited by in particular?
Large scale movement of fish! I LOVE the pelagic episodes of Blue Planet and love to think about exactly how those schools of fish move and their motivations. I also like the fisheries aspect, thinking about how we can work with these schools of fish so that populations can stay healthy. I’m also really into sharks and rays so keep up to date with those guys as much as possible! Alongside this, I’m a sucker for any weird science, so just send me a fact and I tend to fall down the rabbit hole of strange animals.
Me too… I am a huge fan of weird animal facts! So, can you tell us what is the best thing about working in your field?
It sounds cheesy, but everyone I work with is really into the conservation of the oceans and it’s really inspiring to work with like-minded people. Also, everyone comes from such different backgrounds and have different interests so it’s awesome to see the kind of work that’s produced when everyone comes together. One thing I love especially about our department in Glasgow is that it has a high percentage of women researchers, and I find that really inspiring too!
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in zoology?
I’ve always been really keen on animals and used to build wormeries and birdhouses as a kid in my granny’s back garden. After getting some experience in vets around London, I knew I wanted to move out of the city and work with “wild” animals and after some research, a zoology degree sounded perfect. I selected all my modules around marine biology and fish and was fortunate enough to have really inspiring lecturers. A few years later, plus an MSc and some experience – here we are!
Awesome! What do you like to do when you’re not doing science?
I really like to cook (read: eat) food and hang out with my mates when not working. I try and climb when I can, and going to the gym is a great de-stressor. As for hobbies, I’m building a laser harp with my friend – so I’m learning electronics and I also help run an arts and crafts club with workmates! I’m also enjoying getting involved with SciComm stuff, so currently have a podcast in the making – watch this space!
What environmental issues do you think people should be more aware of?
I know Blue Planet II mentioned it loads, but we should all be working to reduce plastics (both single use and micro!). We should also be thinking more about overfishing and aquaculture. There’s a lot of potential solutions to our depletion of the ocean’s resources but we have to start changing the way we think about aquaculture and fisheries conservation, and that will come with more science and communication about it!
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to study zoology?
Get as much experience as possible in a wide range of areas to figure out what you like! If you can ask PhD students you know if you can assist in any way, you can get some invaluable experience from the beginning of your degree.
And finally! What is your favourite animal?
Probably a three-way tie between Manta Rays because they’re so big and cool, Tiger Sharks because I also relate to being called the Garbage Can of the Sea, and Tuna because they’re physiologically awesome fish and cool speedy zoomers. But I also like racoons and opossums because they’re GREAT.
You can follow Lucy over on Twitter at @lucy_cotgrove for more about her research, upcoming podcast, and general shenanigans!