Change of research environment at the BRC

As part of your PhD at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, it is required that you do a change of research environment for 3-6 months. The idea is that you leave your comfort zone for a while and talk to scientists within your field from a different institution. It’s supposed to open your eyes to the fact that not all research institutions are the same and not everyone thinks like you do. Also, it is a great opportunity to expand your scientific network.

The hard part is figuring out where to go. Some students end up going to a different institution, but don’t really get the chance to interact with other researchers. They end up sitting in a corner, working alone on their own stuff. Others have really great experiences. That’s what I wanted: a great experience. I wanted to learn some new methods and join an active research group with frequent scientific discussions.

I’m now at the Biological Records Centre at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in a small town in Oxfordshire called Wallingford and I do believe I’ve come to the right place. For three months I will be working with Nick Isaac and his mixed team of PhD students, PostDocs and researchers.

They are developing an R package called sparta (Species Presence/Absence R Trends Analyses which I will be using to analyse a combined dataset on ants in Denmark from two natural history museums, a private collection and a citizen science project (The Ant Hunt, of course). I often get asked “How are ants doing? Are they declining like bees?” and this is exactly the question I hope to answer during my stay: Has there been any changes in occupancy of some of Denmarks most common ant species over the past 100/150 years and if so, what is driving these changes.

The BRC has been running since 1964 and provides a focus for the collation, management, dissemination and interpretation of species observations (biological records). As such, they work closely with volunteers and have extensive knowledge on dealing with citizen science datasets. Their 50 year anniversary booklet can be found here.

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