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Spotlight: Katherine Whyte, PhD Researcher in Marine Biology at the University of St Andrews

Tell us a fun fact about yourself

In my free time, one of the ways I relax is by playing the drums.

Tell us about your career journey so far

I went to university to study Marine Biology- it sounded interesting, but when I began I had no idea what I would do for a career afterwards. After graduating, I wanted to develop my skills further, so I took a more specialised Masters degree course in Marine Mammal Science. I then spent a year working as a marine biologist at National Museums Scotland (in Edinburgh). I’m now working as a PhD Researcher at the University of St Andrews, investigating how noise from human activities in the ocean can affect our marine wildlife. For example, I’m currently researching how seals are reacting to construction noise from offshore wind farms around the UK.

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

My favourite subject was Biology, as I was always interested in animals and nature. I also liked the problem-solving involved in maths and the other sciences.

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

Most marine biologists will have qualifications (school grades, and an undergraduate degree) in Biology. However, Marine Biology is really diverse and lots of different career paths are possible. Qualifications in maths/statistics are helpful for working with lots of scientific data, physics and chemistry can be helpful for understanding the ocean environment, and engineering can be helpful for designing technology to study the ocean.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

I enjoy solving problems, and knowing that finding the answers will have an impact in the real world. My research will help us to understand how seals are affected by noise from humans, and how we can best manage human activities in the future to minimise our impact on the environment.

What is a normal day in your role like?

Most days I am based at my computer, analysing data or writing up reports on my research, but this is not all that I do. Some days, I am helping teach university students, running activities for the public at science festivals, or attending science conferences to learn from others and share my work. I also get to go out on trips (usually on small boats) to collect more data on the seals that I am studying.

Suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?

Ever wondered what it sounds like under the sea? This website has a great selection of sound recordings from different whales, seals and fishes, as well as rainfall, earthquakes, boats and more. Be sure to check out the Weddell seal!

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The UK-wide STEM Ambassador programme is managed by STEM Learning Limited, which operates the National STEM Learning Network, alongside other projects supporting STEM education. To find out more please go to the STEM Learning website