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Ellie Dyer's PhD Blog

by Ellie Dyer

My PhD does not include a field work component, so I jumped at the chance to travel to Australia to the University of Adelaide to spend a month working in the lab of my overseas supervisor Dr Phill Cassey (www.cassey-invasion-ecology.org). I travelled there with Su Shan, another invasion biology PhD student hosted jointly by UCL and the Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London.

Falling at the beginning of the second year of my PhD, it was the perfect opportunity to spend time focussing on some species richness analyses that I had been struggling with for a while. Being 11 hours ahead of the UK meant that I was awake whilst the rest of my London office were asleep, so I missed out on the distractions of email and lengthy coffee breaks. The sun rising early to reveal clear blue skies made it easy to jump out of bed and start the day. It turns out I do my best work in the morning – hard to replicate at home in London when it’s still dark outside with horizontal torrential rain at 8am.

The University of Adelaide itself is in a beautiful location, adjacent to botanic gardens and parkland on one side with the River Torrens running through, complete with black swans and basking water skinks. The other side of campus sits next to the State Library of South Australia, the Art Gallery of South Australia, the South Australian Museum, and most importantly the tram line that leads to the beach! We visited the palindromic Glenelg beach a couple of times (you can’t visit Australia without getting a bit of a tan), and it gave us the perfect timeout from our PhDs. Not too busy with beautiful white sand, shallow seas, rows of bars and cafes and only a few sharks. We were also lucky enough to visit Belair National Park with Phill and his family, where we saw a stump-tailed skink, two species of freshwater turtle and of course koalas and grey kangaroos. Phill was the perfect host and invited us to his house where we had the opportunity to get to know the team from Adelaide, and also sample a traditional Aussie barbeque whilst trying to spot the resident koala in the eucalyptus tree above us. 

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Keeping an eye out for sharks.

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The University of Adelaide campus with the beautiful jacaranda trees in bloom.


Not only did the break from normal life allow me to have a concentrated period of time to focus on my PhD, it also gave me the opportunity to speak to other invasion biologists in the new lab and set up some fantastic collaborations. I gave a presentation to a team who are developing some species distribution models and had expressed an interest in using my data to trial them with. I started working on a paper with Phill and one of his other PhD students, looking at hotspots of uncertainty in invasive species detection. I also got the rare opportunity to meet with two members from the Australian Government in Victoria to discuss my project and the prospect of using my data to advise and support their invasive species policies.

My month in Adelaide was probably the most productive time of my PhD so far. Having the skillsets and advice of Phill and his team on hand, coupled with the lack of distraction, really helped me to focus my research. The 35°C sunshine also helped of course. I am happily returning at the end of this year to repeat the process, and I’m looking forward to continuing the collaborations I made there.


Only 284 days until I’ll be back on the beach, I mean back in the lab…

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Su Shan and I on the University of Adelaide campus.

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Glenelg beach.