Fellow Newtoner – Kathryn Maher

Tell us about yourself?

My name is Kathryn Maher. I am a PhD student at the Department of Biology and Biochemistry and the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath. My research is focused on the evolution of mating systems and the molecular basis of complex behaviour.

Has it been a worthwhile study tour to China?

I was awarded a scholarship from the British Council in China as part of the Newton Fund PhD Placement Programme for me and my PhD supervisor to visit Beijing Normal University. 

Getting to visit and study in China was an amazing opportunity which greatly benefitted my PhD research. During my visit I was able to visit Qinghai Lake, which is an incredibly beautiful place, to collect data for collaborative projects. I also had the opportunity to present an invited talk at Beijing Normal University. This was an amazing opportunity, which allowed me to gain additional experience presenting my research to research peers in China, and receive valuable feedback on my results. I am really pleased that I was able to form long lasting collaborations between myself and our partners at Beijing Normal University, as well as connections with Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. These partnerships will be beneficial to my PhD research as they provide expertise, knowledge, and equipment supplementary to those offered at my own institution.

All of these benefits would not have been possible without the support of the Newton Fund and the links that have been established as part of this.

I would definitely recommend to everyone to apply to spend some time in China during their PhD studies.

What’s it like to study in a Chinese university?

I was struck the community feeling of Beijing Normal University. Most of the staff and students live in accommodation on campus and eat meals together at the university canteens. This is a very different feeling to most UK universities where people tend to live further away. Living close to the department meant that less time is wasted commuting so most people stayed late in the office. Spending so much time working together creates strong friendships and promotes good working relationships.

What are the people like?

Everyone I met was extremely welcoming and friendly. It is a huge change to move to another country to live for several months, especially a place as different to the UK as China. It could easily have been very isolating to live somewhere where you do not speak the language but I never felt lonely. I made some amazing friends who made sure my stay was never boring and who were as interested in learning about how things are in the UK as I was about China.

Fellow Newtoner – Kathryn Maher

Tell us about your research?

I am an evolutionary biologist. I mainly study plovers, which are small wading birds, using genetic techniques to understand their behaviour and how they adapt to their environment. During my time in China I worked on projects monitoring Kentish plovers and lesser sand plovers in Qinghai lake.

Do you plan to return to China in the future?

Although I have no immediate plans to return to China until I have finished my PhD, I hope I will get the opportunity to return. I am still in contact with academics and students. We have also had people visit us in Bath in return, which promises that the ties we have made between our research groups will be long lived. I am really proud of my role in fostering these links.

Tell us your overall impression of China?

Beautiful, busy and brilliant. China is an excellent mix of the familiar and the curious. Walking along a seemingly modern shopping street in Beijing you can stumble into a street market full of colourful fish for sale or a food market with a diversity of strange and delicious foods. Walk a little further and you might find the ancient walls of the imperial palace of the Forbidden City. It is a city that never sleeps, with shops, cafes and restaurants open until the early hours. 

This contrasted with the peace and tranquillity of visiting the stunningly beautiful Qinghai province. During fieldwork, we could spend a day by the lakeside with no more company than a couple of shepherds driving their large flocks of sheep and of course the charismatic birds we were there to find.