Really enjoyed the final chat session! Heading into the rainforest shortly -I can't wait!
Favourite Thing: Publishing my work – it’s hard to describe how amazing it feels! Also the chance to work outdoors, often in beautiful and remote places.
1996 – 2000 University of Coimbra; 2000 – 2001 University of the Azores; 2006 – 2010 Cardiff University
BSc / MRes / PhD
University of the Azores; A ROCHA bird centre; Cardiff University
I’m just about to finish a project looking at the diet of penguins by finding, in their faeces, the DNA of what they’ve been eating. I’m hoping to start a new project soon studying the seabirds breeding on an island off Mauritius.
Me and my work
I study seabirds so I spend a lot of my time on desert islands often collecting birds’ vomit and droppings (sounds nice doesn’t it?).
Well… Apart from the fact that your clothes get to smell of fish oil for ever, it is actually quite exciting! Faeces and vomit samples are precious sources of information on an animals’ diet. I use field and lab techniques (visual identification and DNA detection) to find and identify, in such samples, the prey consumed by the birds I am studying. More generally I am interested in seabirds’ responses and adaption to climate change. Understanding their diet is an important step in this process. For instance, knowing what an animal has been eating might also give valuable clues to where and when it has been feeding (here is an example: “Thomas R.J., Pollard A.L. & Medeiros R. 2006. Evidence for intertidal foraging by European Storm Petrels Hydrobates pelagicus during migration. Atlantic Seabirds, 8:87-94″).
I am currently writing a manuscript on how European storm petrels (Hydrobates pelagicus) seem to be able to predict food availability during their migration journeys and respond accordingly. They stuff themselves with food when prey availability is low (to make sure they will not starve on the way) but eat less when overall prey abundance is high (no point carrying extra weight during your journey if you are sure to find enough food along the way). We never knew they could be so clever!
My colleagues and I also found that male and female storm petrels behave differently during migration, though we still don’t really know why (take a look at “Medeiros R., King R.A., Symondson W.O.C., Cadiou B., Zonfrillo B., et al. 2012. Molecular Evidence for Gender Differences in the Migratory Behaviour of a Small Seabird. PLoS ONE 7(9): e46330. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046330″).
There is a lot more I could tell you about my work with storm petrels and other seabirds but I guess that’s what the chats are for! So I think I should just say that I am originally from Portugal but moved to the UK in 2006 to start my PhD at Cardiff University. I am married and have two children, a 9 years old boy and a 6 years old girl. Working as a scientist can be hard on family life, particularly for women (I think), but with a great deal of determination, a bit of imagination and, I guess, some sacrifice, it can work out well. I am also a Christian and I don’t feel any conflict between my faith and my work – it does give rise to many interesting conversations at work though!
My Typical Day
There really isn’t a typical day at work and that’s one of the things I love about it!
During fieldwork season, the typical day is to sleep from about 8 am to 3 pm, wake up, relax a bit, sort the data and samples from the previous night and start getting ready to go to the field in the evening. From around 7 pm to 7 am I am at the bottom of a cliff, facing the sea, hopefully catching some storm petrels (the smallest seabirds in the world), putting little numbered metal rings round their legs, taking body measurements, collecting feather and faecal samples and letting them go again back to the sea.
When fieldwork season is over my typical day is either in the lab, extracting and amplifying DNA from the birds’ feather and faecal samples, or at the computer analysing data statistically, reading, writing or reviewing papers, preparing talks for conferences, contacting other scientists, and getting distracted a lot of the time. I also teach and supervise undergraduate students, attend academic meetings and seminars, join events like this, etc… As I said, there really isn’t a typical day!
What I'd do with the money
I believe the best way to communicate science is to get people to experience it so I would use the money to promote the project “Storm Petrels in Portugal”, which gives people, from all ages and backgrounds, the opportunity to join a research expedition and experience science from inside.
“Storm Petrels in Portugal” is an ongoing project investigating seabirds’ responses to climate change. The project started in 1990 by scientists from the international organisation “A ROCHA”, with a field centre in the South of Portugal, and became the main focus of my PhD research in 2006. During that time, my supervisor and I developed an educational side of the project by organising teams of people to join the fieldwork in Portugal for periods of ten days during which they receive teaching and training on the research subjects, help with the fieldwork and data management and get involved in data analysis and interpretation of the results. The participants pay a fee that covers their living expenses and helps supporting the costs of the research.
So far our participants have been mainly students from Cardiff University though we have had people from all over the UK and also from other countries such as Italy, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and Egypt. The feedback from the participants has been truly encouraging and we would love to develop the project further. This prize would be very useful to promote the project, making it known to a wider range of people. The plan would be to produce some posters, flyers and T-shirts and to give talks at schools, universities and other places of interest throughout the UK. For now, you can find out more about “Storm Petrels in Portugal” from our blog (http://stormies-online.blogspot.co.uk/) or on Facebook.
I would also love to communicate my research at the II World Seabird Conference in October 2015, in Capetown, South Africa, so if there is any money left I will use it for that!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
I simply can’t do this sort of thing! I asked my kids instead and here’s the result: epic, scatterbrain, computer nerd. The chocolate cake I just baked might help to explain the first one, the second is an undeniable truth and events like this give me the reputation for the third :)
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Probably a night of Scotish ceilidh dancing.
What did you want to be after you left school?
A vet. Fortunately I had a terrible chemistry teacher and a great maths teacher – the terrible mark I got on my national chemistry exam prevented me to be a vet but the good mark I got for maths allowed me to be a biologist. I still thank God for that bad chemistry teacher.
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
Hum… yes… (though never very serious)
What was your favourite subject at school?
Philosophy!! It really helped me make some sense of life at the time.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Lived on a desert island for one year in order to help describing a new seabird species: “Bolton, M… Medeiros, R. … & R.W. Furness. 2008. Monteiro’s Storm Petrel Oceanodroma monteiroi: a new species from the Azores. Ibis 150-4: 717–727”
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
It was mostly nature itself, I always found it amazing and intriguing! I wanted to work with animals since I was a very little girl (the main plan back then was to go to Australia to work with koalas).
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
Some sort of an artist (though I lack the talent so being a scientist is a much wiser option).
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
A travel fund to allow me to visit all my friends scattered around the world; a permanent job as a scientist; a cleaning fairy.
Tell us a joke.
What do you call a fly without wings? A WALK!
Digging holes to build nest boxes for Madeiran and Monteiros’ storm petrels (Oceanodroma castro and O. monteiroi) in the Azores.
Checking storm petrels nest boxes in the Azores (left); Ringing Little Tern chicks (Sternula albifrons) in the Algarve, Portugal (right).
European Storm Petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus)