Two papers accepted this week!

20 01 2013

One was Becky (sob, Becky)’s paper on the welfare correlates of different types of inactivity (entitled “Sleeping tight or hiding in fright?”). The other was an invited paper for Animal Behavour, for a special edition based around a conference on how animals in the wild respond to the rapid environmental changes that humans are imposing on them (see The editor, Andy Sih ( very nicely called it:

a very exciting paper that has the potential to be a landmark

“If this course was discontinued, it would be no great loss to the animal science department”

20 01 2013

Got feedback from last semester’s 4th year class last week: about 50 of the 100-strong group gave online feedback, which is pretty unprecedented.  Most of the class liked it, and a healthy chunk of them really REALLY liked it (for which thank you, if you’re reading this!). Some useful critical feedback too, especially on my slides-as-handout approach (easy for me, but sometimes a pain for them). However, a couple of the comments had me reeling. The one in the subject line was one; another claimed I’d “belittled” her. They really hurt at first, but honestly, after a lot of thought and self-reflection, I’m just going to ignore them. Great additions to my anti-CV though: will spice it up nicely. 

Becky’s Last Supper

18 01 2013

We said goodbye to Becky (aka Dr Rebecca Meagher) last week, by going out to the Green Room (  She was about to travel to Vancouver for a 6 month post-doc with Dan Weary at UBC, on aspects of calf welfare (though Carole was planning to imprison her so that she cannot leave, ever… ).  We are so going to miss her.

Shown here, in our very own last supper are (left to right): Liana (Jamie‘s wife and genius artistic director), Jamie, Walter, Carole’s boyfriend Matthieu, Walter’s girlfriend Elena, Carole, Becky (cue choirs of angels), Agata, Maria, Heather, Mike, me, and Heather’s husband Michael.               

Welcome Alexandra Harlander!

12 01 2013

Dr. Alexandra Harlander-Mataushek joined my department last week, taking a 5-year long faculty appointment in poultry welfare. She came from Hanno Wurbel’s lab in Bern ( content/team/prof_dr_hanno_wuerbel/ index_ger.html), and it is great to have her here. On Wednesday she came to her first Behaviour Group meeting, and treated us all to lunch and treats. Three of us have joined the group in the last decade (me, Lee Niel and Derek Haley) and none of us ever thought to do anything so nice! It seems like a good omen… She has her eyes shut here but it’s still a cute picture: looks like she’s laying hide and seek. Amongst other things, she plans to continue her very cool past work on feather-pecking, as well as looking at how early experience affects motor dexterity in poultry (especially flight abilities) with a view to reducing the currently overly-high rates of keel damage seen in aviary systems.

Overly honest methods

9 01 2013

This is SO great: (It particularly resonated since today I literally asked Maria to “invent some reason for having weighed baby mink at 10 days of age”!).

Being a uni prof: the least stressful job out there (CNBC’s view) or…

9 01 2013

Here is a nice find from Maria:

To judge this profession as low stress is SOOOO ludicrous it beggars belief, but this blog is too negative too (especially if you work in Canada, where the pay is mysteriously way better than in the US or indeed the UK ; don’t understand why … just happy to accept it without question)

Grad studies – are they for you?

7 01 2013

Doing a coursework / ‘extended coursework’ masters  

Basics: takes 3-4 semesters; self-funded by student

This is a great option if you’re not sure what to do next (but pretty sure you’re not headed for a research career), and you really enjoyed being an undergraduate. As its name implies, this option is coursework-heavy and in many ways will feel just like being an undergrad for a 5th year, only with smaller classes and more specialization. Your research project will typically only take 2-3 months (May-July), and if you did an undergraduate research project, it will be a rather similar experience: your project will normally be designed and organized by your advisor or senior members of his/her research group, and although you might come up with small improvements of your own, you probably won’t do much ‘intellectual heavy lifting’ (you typically won’t be expected to develop the hypotheses under test for example, nor analyse the data if they require anything beyond the simplest stats tests). Your final write-up may be publishable (in a peer reviewed journal), but it also may well not be because these projects are often rather small in scale.

If you find you really like the research, there is now an option to extend the research semester into the following fall. This ‘extended coursework’ masters is more likely to result into a publishable project, and more likely to win you a PhD position if that starts interesting you. If you’re a fulltime Canadian student, the department would pay your fees for this 4th semester!

Doing a thesis degree (a thesis masters or PhD)

Basics: takes 2-3 years (MSc)/3-5 years (PhD); typically funded by a grant or scholarship won by the student, the advisor, or both working together

Thesis degrees involve taking some courses, but most of your time will be devoted to conducting original research and writing it up (both for your thesis and also as papers to submit to journals). Most published research papers involve or are even led by thesis students: thesis students play an absolutely crucial part in scientific discovery! This is therefore the option for you if you’re interested in finding out how new knowledge is generated and want to be part of that process. It can be incredibly rewarding, especially if you have a great idea or lovely results that no-one has ever had before. However it can be frustrating too, and being a research student definitely is not for everyone (see,, and for perceptive insights). Doing the research needed for a thesis, and publishing and defending it, involves a lot of initiative, independent problem-solving, and insane amounts of hard work.  To be successful as a thesis student, and to enjoy it too, you need to be analytical, intelligent, industrious, perfectionist, creative, well organized, good at taking criticism and highly self-motivated.

My expectations for different types of grad student

As an advisor running a large, dynamic research group, I have different motives for taking on different types of grad student, and accordingly, different expectations too. (Note: in case you didn’t know this, faculty don’t get paid for supervising graduate students, and nor do they have to do it).

I take on coursework students where I have a small self-contained project I want doing, that is best conducted in the summer months. I do my best to ensure such projects are interesting, and also likely to succeed in yielding new, quality, publishable findings. Unlike my expectations for thesis students, however, as a rule I don’t expect coursework students to come to my weekly group meetings (nor to the larger ‘Behaviour Group’ meetings held for all welfare faculty and their thesis students and post docs), except when are actually designing and running their projects (April-Aug). This is because I don’t expect coursework students to be that interested in the minutiae of research, and also, by the time they know enough to really contribute to these meetings, they will have graduated and left!

Thesis students, in contrast, I take on when I (or they) have interesting, difficult research problems in mind that will take a longer period of time to solve. Just as for coursework students, I supervise thesis students because there is research I want to see done, and papers I want to see published… but I have additional motives and hopes too. One is that I want someone to not just take up my research suggestions but to improve them, or maybe even replace them altogether with new, better ideas. Another is that I use thesis students to learn new things myself: at some point in their studies, each and every thesis student will come to know much more than me about something (perhaps a lab technique, a body of literature, or a set of sophisticated statistical techniques). As a result, my thesis students collectively have way more knowledge and skill than I could ever acquire working solo (which is really good fun for me, and an efficient way of doing good research; they also teach each other too). Finally, for those thesis students who decide that a university research career is for them, I find it very motivating knowing I am helping to train a future colleague: someone I may well be friends and collaborators with for life.