Claire El Mouden

I'm very happy, because one of the people I work with will be talking about our research on the Today programmes (BBC Radio 4) next week!

Favourite Thing: Discover connections where no-one else has seen them before.



Abbey School, Reading 1991-1999, Edinburgh University 2000-2004, Cambridge University 2006-2007, Oxford University 2008-now.


BSc in Biological Sciences, MPhil in Development Studies (like international economic development), PhD in Evolutionary Biology, MA in nothing – Oxford gives them out to people who become fellows!

Work History:

I’ve worked in Canada, France, Spain, Costa Rica, Kenya and South Africa. My favourite non-academic job was taking people to see wild boars in the woods at night when I was working as a ‘Wild and Active’ Guide for Canvas Holidays on a campsite in France.

Current Job:

Research Fellow, Department of Zoology


Oxford University

Me and my work

I try to figure out what makes humans different from other animals

I use the knowledge gained from studying how animals work together to better understand human societies. I then take these findings and explain them to policy makers (like politicians, or the leaders of big organisations like the Bank of England). I try to help them realise how understanding more about human behaviour can help them come up with better ideas.

In practice, my research involves making models (doing maths on a computer), reviewing work that lots of other people have done and running experiments and surveys. Most of the experiments involve inviting members of the public to try to earn money by doing tasks which I’ve designed.

Here is a short video I made describing what I work on (and yes, that IS my light-sabre in the background!).

My Typical Day

I don’t really have a typical day! I know this is what everyone says, but it’s true!

I hate getting out of bed in the mornings, so I don’t normally get up very early – that is one of the benefits of being an academic – you can (pretty much) choose when you work!

I’ll cycle to my office, check emails, do some work. Most days, I’ll also have meetings with the other academics who I work with. Every week I meet students and go to talks and often I travel to conferences. Conferences are great fun – they are always held in cool places (like next month I’m off to Miami!) – and you get to meet everyone from around the world who shares your interests and learn what everyone is working on.

In reality, this is what I spend lots of time doing…reading books and papers that other people have written. This is a picture of me in my office.


What I'd do with the money

I’d get this awesome rapper I know ‘Babba Brinkman’ to record a rap about the evolution of cooperation, which we could then show when people from my department visit schools

So, there’s a cool guy a I know called Baba Brinkman. I’d use the money to ask him to record a rap about my research!

Here’s a video of him rapping about Evolution:

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Always Drinking Tea

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Sting, Adelle, Jessie J, Queen, Mr. Scruff, Sublime, Nina Simone.

What's your favourite food?

Roast Lamb

What is the most fun thing you've done?

When I was 18, I got a bus from Nairobi, Kenya, to Cape Town, South Africa. Just after I arrived in Cape Town, there was a massive oil tanker spill, and for the next 3 months, I volunteered to help look after all the birds that got sick as as result….this included helping to scrub 20,000 African Penguins with fairy liquid! The best thing was when we took truck loads of penguins in cardboard boxes down to the beach to set them free. They were so happy to get back to the sea!

What did you want to be after you left school?

I had no idea! I just wanted to leave my home town and see the world.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

My friends and I once thought it would be fun to come in to school at 7am and wrap the art block in loo roll…unfortunately, we got caught by our geography teacher. Somehow I avoided detention by claiming it was meant to be artistic!

What was your favourite subject at school?

Geography and Art. (I had to drop Biology, because my teacher told me I was no good at it!!)

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I got to travel to Costa Rica, and spent several months in the rain forest studying a little brown bird called the Canebrake Wren. It lived in swampy clearings, and we’d get up before dawn and hike out to these forest clearings along tiny snake-infested paths to play the birds recordings of other birds. We wanted to see how they used their calls when they thought there was a stranger bird trying to come in to their territory. The only problem was, as they lived in swamps, and we had to get close to them, we sometimes fell in!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

David Attenborough. I’m serious! I loved animals, and would study those around me, but it was watching his wildlife programmes as a kid made me want to travel the world.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

I’d probably be working in animal conservation, where I’d get to help protect our environment and meet the public.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

To own a dog, to travel more and to know how to knit!

Tell us a joke.

What do you call a fish without an eye? A Fsh!

Other stuff

Work photos:

This is my office in Oxford. I was very pleased in this photo as I’d just finished a really horrible model.