The strangest place I’ve ever reworked a protocol

20 08 2019

Adding to my ‘unusual places’ theme, last week I found myself exchanging text after text about experimental design while perched on a 17th century windowsill surrounded by stuffed stags’ heads. The venue? The fabulously eccentric, run-down pile of Calke Abbey.


And the reason? Another mistake in the ‘judgment bias’ study, spotted in time but needing a swift, nimble solution that could accommodate A & A’s growing exhaustion, the extinction of some mice to the unreinforced ambiguous cue, and noisy renovations planned in the CAF on Monday (by which time this experiment had been supposed to be safely over).

We pulled it off, all will be well, and the experiment will be good  (if very unlikely to validate the task). But the surreal final twist was that the mouse retraining that had to happen on the noisy Monday was accompanied by the faint sound of drilling, which apparently sounded like crying. So, Augustina, Aileen and Sylvia  each thought one of the others was quietly weeping. Now that’s judgment bias! These women need a well-deserved rest, that’s for sure.

Postcard from Bergen

20 08 2019


From Michelle, at the end of the recent ISAE conference:

Screenshot 2019-08-20 16.17.18

She got to visit Howard Browman’s aquaculture research facility too. I so wish I could have made both, but I was saving my energy for a UK trip (and also for ISAE next year in … Bangalore!).

Below, Maria at her poster on mink thermoregulation, both Ms looking stunning at the banquet, and Bergen itself:



Sam’s a daddy! …

9 08 2019

… or maybe a big brother. Something thrilled anyway: his mum has got puppies, and as Sam put it “I’m now putting my MSc in animal welfare to good use”. Behold Finn (R) and Archie (L):


So proud of Maria!

8 08 2019






1) She won the Royal Vet College’s Outstanding Project Supervisor award!




2) She’s started some really cool work with the European mink: an endangered species with very poor breeding success in captivity (see pics below from last month’s ABS/IEC meeting, on which more later…):


Text of the week (don’t look at if eating)

3 08 2019

This was quite the text to wake up to, from potential new PhD student Prathipa:


Prathipa’s trying to assay corticosteroid metabolites in the faeces of group-housed monkeys at her local zoo. But how to tell one turd from the other? That is the question.

Answer: Feed individual monkeys treats dosed with colour-coded glitter (a clever trick taught me by past student Jessica)!

Quote of the week

18 07 2019

“David really, really doesn’t like three-ways”

– from Andrea, who’s back from Oregon (and, she swears blind, was talking about statistical interactions).

‘Awake but motionless’ a sign of poor welfare in dogs?

17 07 2019


Animals just published a new paper by Carole Fureix and her collaborators.  Looking at 57 dogs in 7 shelters, they tried to find out whether spending inactive, despite being awake, might be a sign of depression (as may be so in our mice), or boredom (as might be true in at least some mink). The jury’s still out, but this is early stages. One interesting result was that dogs who’d been relinquished by their owners showed the most. It’s hard not to find that a little bit heart-breaking…