Ecology and Evolutionary Biology postgraduate student Jacqueline Bond began her study in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences (SBCS) at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) in 2017. We spoke to Jacqueline to learn more about her experience of the course, her field work in Borneo and her research project on bees.
Jacqueline at Danum Valley, Borneo
Why did you decide to study Ecology and Evolutionary Biology?
I was primarily interested in studying ecology, though by the end I found myself more interested in the evolutionary side. When applying, I’d been working for an environmental charity for the last couple of years and felt I should get more experience and qualifications in this area to move my career forwards and work for an environmental charity after gaining my degree.
Tell us about your postgraduate experience at Queen Mary
The programme was half taught and half research project. For the taught modules, I hadn’t studied a course for a long time so it took me a little while to settle back into to how to study again. After the early modules, I received quite good marks, which helped me become more confident. I really enjoyed the modules, especially on the History of Evolution and I learnt a lot in a very short space of time.
When we moved on to the research project part of the course, I chose to do a project in the bee lab because of my previous background in Neuroscience and Psychology in my undergraduate degree, and it was a good fit for both my past and current interests in animal cognition and intelligence. The project focused on how we prefer rewards when they require more effort to obtain so it was a concept of effort justification and psychological theory. I was able to design the whole project and came up with something which was fresh and something I was interested in, rather than my previous experience in undergraduate where I’d have to choose from a set list of projects. It’s not every day that you are trusted to do something independently, that you’re really interested in and it’s potentially novel research on a professional level.
How does the project work in practice?
With the help of my supervisors, first I set up a series of small doors and tunnels, which the bees would have to push through to obtain a reward. The more doors a bee pushed through would be attributed to higher effort while fewer doors meant lower effort. However, we found that it was taking too long for them to finish the tunnel of doors. So after redesigning, we made it using smaller tunnels, receiving the same reward at the end and seeing which they preferred after a series of 200 feeding attempts. The results did show that there was a preference for a reward that required higher effort, which is something that has been proven in other animals but not bees.
How was the field trip to Borneo?
We went into parts of the rainforest that only researchers could go to. We learnt a lot about conservation of the rainforest and the huge amount of animals that live there. We listed about 300 species of animals that we identified over a period of just ten days. On the last few days our group undertook research projects and I chose to do mine on dragonflies. We sat in a field for about three days counting the number of times dragonflies landed in a certain area of a marsh which meant we had to devise many different systems to achieve this. The forest trek at night was a special experience, during which we also set up a number of harp traps, which are like a series of 2-3 metre tall guitar strings. They confuse bats so we were able to monitor their populations.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m still doing my private research but I’m looking to continue working on my bee research project up to publication because it is quite novel research and there is quite a lot of debate on why we prefer rewards that take more effort. It has implications on comparative and human psychology. There are many big questions around this topic, why do we get a sense of greater life satisfaction when we put more effort into things and is effort in itself, something that we can enjoy? I am also considering a PhD but I’m weighing up my options.
Learn more about studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at SBCS.