A Year of White Shark PhD Research

11th September 2015 | by

I am now approaching the 1 year mark for my PhD on white sharks…where has it gone?! I’ve been reflecting on the things that I have done in the last year, to help me get a better understanding of how my time has been apportioned, the achievements that I have made, and how best to plan next year’s work.

A Year of White Shark PhD Research

A quick breakdown of my time reveals that, for work, I have:

I have spent approximately four months of that year in South Africa for field work, a week and a half in Portugal to supervise undergraduate student project work, a week in Brighton for induction, a day in London for a conference and six days in Plymouth for another conference.   That totals up to almost five months, half of my first year away on various work-related trips. Acknowledging the amount of time spent on these activities, not to mention the amount of time preparing for them (field trips in particular take a lot of time to plan, especially when having to research, design, purchase, oversee and sometimes make equipment as well as research and prepare methods for data collection), has really helped me to understand where I am in my PhD.

Typically, a PhD in a field such as mine will begin with six months dedicated to a review of all of the relevant scientific literature related to your field of study. This written review forms the basis of the introduction to your PhD thesis and likely parts of the papers that will be written on the findings of your PhD. After that, there is usually a period of time for planning field work – which questions need answering, which data will answer those questions, which methods will produce those data and which analyses will be applied to those data to get the answers out.

I had four weeks until my first field trip, followed by two and half months until my next one, with two months (in which time I had the Portugal trip) until the last trip, which was completed at the end of July. It has been an eventful year!

It just goes to show that not all PhDs are the same. I may not have had much time to work on a literature review, or prepare for upcoming fieldtrips, but by golly have I been given the opportunity to hone the skills of innovation, improvisation, time management and under pressure planning! I’ve collected so much data, learned incredible amounts and built working relationships and friendships with colleagues in my field that are invaluable. I now have a much clearer understanding of what my PhD thesis chapters will consist of, and how I will fill them.

At times, it has been incredibly stressful, but I’ve always thought that the stressful times are when we show the best of ourselves. You’ll never know what you are capable of until you are tested. Looking back on my first year as a PhD student, I feel that I have without a doubt been tested and that I have risen to meet the challenges laid before me. This is a good feeling! It doesn’t feel like it all the time, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m happy with my progress so far.

I’ve made some pretty exciting discoveries that I hope to be able to share in the not-so-distant future and am scheduled for another trip to South Africa in November which I am excited to share with you all as it progresses.

For now, it’s very much a time of catch up with the literature, statistical analyses of some of my data and organising other ongoing facets of the work that needs to be done. To keep up with the day to day happenings at SharkStuff HQ, as well as other shark-related bit and bobs, check out and like the SharkStuff Facebook page www.facebook.com/SharkStuffUK and follow me on Twitter @Shark_Stuff

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