A planet to discover BESTLEY_tuna03

Published on June 5th, 2013 | by Emily Corbett


PhDs that take you places

Written by Katherine Johnson, science writer

When Dr Sophie Bestley gives seminars to school students who are interested in studying marine science, her word of advice is: do maths.

‘If you want to be a dolphin-hugger or a seal-hugger, do your maths,’ Dr Bestley says.

‘It’s a powerful combination – the fun of collecting new data plus the tricky part of making sense of that data using maths.’

And Sophie knows what she is talking about. One of the first students to graduate from the CSIRO-UTas PhD Program in Quantitative Marine Studies (QMS)* – a joint initiative of the University of Tasmania and CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research – Sophie’s career has taken her places.

The PhD, which used tag data to study the migration patterns of Southern Bluefin Tuna between the Great Australian Bight and the Southern Ocean, and revealed valuable information on feeding behaviour, has led to postdoctoral employment in Canada and France.

Screen shot 2013-12-03 at 10.14.20 AMDr Bestley won a prestigious Killam Fellowship at Dalhousie University applying mathematical models to animal movement data, before working in Paris for a three-month residency.

Currently an ARC Super Science Fellow working between the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies and the Australian Antarctic Division, Dr Bestley studies the movement patterns of a range of species including elephant seals, penguins, albatross and krill in the Antarctic and subAntarctic.

Her research is helping to identify ‘hotspots’ or areas of high ecological significance.

‘Maths is empowering,’ she says. ‘Marine science is complex. You are always working across fronts – fisheries, socio-economics, oceanography – with complicated data streams, on issues that require creative solutions.’

We have a growing pool of data from different species, and when we bring that data together we can begin to understand ecosystem level patterns and start managing on the basis of ecosystems instead of single species, she says.

‘Marine science is a field crying out for students with strong maths backgrounds. I wouldn’t have got any of my jobs without my PhD in QMS.’

*The CSIRO-UTas PhD Program in Quantitative Marine Science (QMS) is offered through the University of Tasmania’s specialist Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies and CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research. For more information www.imas.utas.edu.au






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