Posts tagged: research

How I Survived my PhD Viva

8 April 2014

I submitted my thesis on 24th January. Soon after, I was given a date for my viva: 26th March. Once I had the date, I felt able to think more clearly about the viva and how I’d prepare for it. Read more…..

Third Year Achievements

4 December 2013

Last Friday, I submitted my “Notice of Presentation of a PhD” form, on which I declared that I’ll submit my thesis on January 24th, 2014. It’s good to have an official deadline to work towards, as opposed to an “I’ll do it by the end of the week/month/year (delete as appropriate)” sort of deadline that you try to impose on yourself but is very easy to move (or to miss altogether). This mini-milestone got me thinking about what I achieved in the third year of my PhD.

In February, I passed my Internal Evaluation. I wrote a small version of my thesis based on the data I’d collected and analysed at the time, and set it out in the chapters that I envisaged having in the final document. This was useful for two reasons: it brought together all the work I’d done up until then, and allowed me to get some feedback from my supervisor and examiners on my plan for the structure of my thesis. The assessment itself was a useful experience, giving me a chance to practice defending my work. It turns out I’ll need a lot more practice before my Viva! I came away from the assessment thinking I’d done OK, but I still have a habit of doubting myself when I’m questioned, especially when the people questioning me are two professors. But I passed the assessment first time, and with valuable feedback from my examiners, was given the green light to carry on and write up.

After our wedding and honeymoon in April, I finished data collection with one more zoo visit to take the total number of hours I’ve spent watching cheetahs to 784. There are 37 cheetahs included in my sample, which is rather a large number for a zoo-based behavioural study.

In June, I had my second paper accepted for publication. The paper on coalition behaviour in male cheetahs was published in the journal Zoo Biology and has led to my supervisors and I submitting another article on the same theme. Hopefully it’ll be accepted before my Viva! A post on the cheetah paper was also published on the Thoughtful Animal blog on the Scientific American web site. (You can follow the author, Jason Goldman, on Twitter.)

Presenting at the 2nd International Symposium on Zoo Animal Welfare. Photo by Geoff Hosey

Presenting at the 2nd International Symposium on Zoo Animal Welfare.
Photo by Geoff Hosey

In July, I presented my work at an international conference for the first time at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago (the abstract for my talk is here). At the conference, I met the Collection Development Manager from Wellington Zoo, New Zealand. Thanks to him, I received cheetah personality questionnaires for a further 16 cheetahs, taking the total number of questionnaires to 120. This is the biggest sample size for any study of big cat personality that I’m aware of.

As I write this, I’m struck by the fact that all these events probably deserved their own blog post. I’ll try and catch up soon. In the meantime, back to thesis writing!

Half way there….

20 March 2012

I’m finding it hard to believe that I’m exactly half-way through my PhD. Strangely, it also feels like a long time since I wrote this post about the first six months. Now seems like a good time to make another list of things I’ve done so far.


My Journey So Far

20 October 2011

My answer to Meme 2 of the Writing Researcher Challenge: How did you get here?


Two More Zoos, Five More Cubs

21 September 2011

Suki and Juba at Marwell

I’m now coming to the end of the first year of my PhD – where has the year gone?! At the moment I’m preparing for my end of year assessment so my zoo trips are currently on hold, but so far I’ve visited eight zoos and collected 336 hours of behavioural data on 23 cheetahs. My most recent visits were to Marwell Wildlife and Whipsnade Zoo and there were interesting social groupings at both collections. Read more…..

Old Friends

21 August 2011

I had been looking forward to returning to Chester Zoo since I started collecting data. My Msc project was based solely at Chester, looking at how two pairs of male cheetahs (two siblings and two half-siblings) reacted to different housing conditions. Firstly, the two siblings were housed together before the arrival of the half-siblings. Then the four cheetahs were housed in two pairs, with the enclosure divided into two and one pair living on each side. The gate in the dividing fence was opened shortly afterwards, to allow all four access to the entire enclosure. Finally, one of the half-siblings left Chester and the remaining three cheetahs were housed in a trio. Read more…..


20 July 2011

So far I’ve visited five zoos to collect data on cheetah behaviour. I spend entire days at the cheetah enclosure and I record, from a list of behaviours, what each cheetah in the enclosure is doing, once per minute. Last week, for the first time, I was faced with a situation that no zoo researcher wants: an animal spending the majority of its time hiding! Read more…..

Beginning Data Collection and SPARC 2011

14 June 2011

Wow, it’s been so long since my last post, especially since two things worth blogging about have happened!


Firstly, I’m pleased to have started visiting zoos for data collection. So far I’ve been to two zoos and observed four cheetahs – a male and two females living together and a male living on his own. Read more…..

My PhD in Plain English

9 April 2011

This post is inspired by #phdchat on Twitter, and @lizith, @OrgMotivation, @martin_eve and @jennacondie, who have also written blog posts explaining their research. You can read more posts like this, and reflections by the authors, on the #phdchat wiki.

The number of cheetahs left in the wild is rapidly declining. To aid cheetah conservation, zoos holding cheetahs participate in an organised breeding programme which aims to boost cheetah numbers. Unfortunately, many zoos have had problems breeding cheetahs and few cubs are born in captivity. Previous research has focused on reproductive biology and has found no differences between wild and captive cheetahs or between breeders and non-breeders within the captive population. It is therefore likely that the cheetah’s poor breeding record in captivity is due to the way cheetahs behave in zoos and how they are housed. Read more…..

The Benefit of Hindsight

14 March 2011

I’m lucky enough to be continuing with my MSc research topic for my PhD, so my co-supervisor suggested that I submit part of my MSc thesis for publication in an academic journal. One of the requirements for my MSc was to write the report as if it was being published, so there will be no need for extensive word-cutting to make the report fit in with journal guidelines (phew!). However, my supervisor advised me to revisit my raw data and see if the way I analysed it was appropriate for the questions I was asking. This proved rather tricky at first because, in my mind, this was a finished piece of work and it was difficult to see other ways of doing the same thing. It’s written. It’s been assesed. That means it’s finished, right? Read more…..