Plans for the future

So this is just a quick post, about my academic progress. In July I finished my Masters course in Statistics, and then I had a few weeks’ break before heading back to the UK to catch up with friends and family.

During that few weeks, I got an offer that seemed too good to refuse. My supervisor from the research project I carried out during my Masters course asked if I wanted to do a PhD. Now I’ve had one main reason for never wanting to do a PhD, which is that it generally involves 3-4 years of intensive study on a single topic. I am, by nature, a generalist, so focusing on one topic for 1 year is hard enough for me, let alone 3 years. Giles agreed that a PhD would probably not suit me.

But my supervisor knew me better than I’d given her credit for. She had a proposal for a multi-topic, multi-disciplinary PhD. I would have to maintain my interest in all the topics for 3 years, but at least I could switch back and forth between them. And the different skills required for each topic would allow me to exercise my brain in different ways over the course of a working week, improving even more the chances of me staying interested.

The topics in question all relate to statistical genetics, the topic of my masters research project, and as such they link up statistics, bioinformatics and ecology. That mixing, on its own, makes the subject matter more interesting and less insanely over-specialized than almost every other PhD topic out there. So that makes me happy. And the topics are specifically linked under the heading of “genetic connectivity”, which is the study of how multiple populations of animals are linked by migration. For example, if you have two populations of a single species that are based close to each other, you may be interested in how many animals migrate between the two populations, as indicated by the level of genetic mixing between the populations. And genetic connectivity interests me because it has so many different applications in the field of conservation.

However, an interesting topic is not sufficient reason to do a PhD. But this PhD has advantages beyond its immediate goal of studying genetic connectivity. It will broaden my options for future work; in particular, it will allow me to move into the field of conservation statistics. I think I would find that industry much more rewarding than the work I would otherwise end up doing, general business statistics (about half of which is about marketing). So I have a plan beyond the PhD.

I am also hoping to use the time while I am researching the PhD to do a lot of networking, and hopefully build up a set of contacts with whom, or for whom, I can work after finishing the PhD. My long-term goal has always been to work as a statistical consultant (I’ve done 5 years of consulting before, and enjoyed it), only now I will be focusing on conservation consulting.

And finally, New Zealand is one place in the world where there is an established conservation industry, hopefully with need for more statisticians. So it makes sense for me to do my PhD here. And working in an area that is important to so many Kiwis would make me feel ever-more integrated into this wonderful country.

So that’s my plan. I am currently in the process of applying to do the PhD, and then I have to apply for funding, so we’ll see how that goes. I have a backup plan. Otherwise, I’ll be starting my research around the turn of the year. And I think it’s going to be fun!

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