VIP Interview with Rosie Day and Emily McCloskey

May Norwood
Tuesday 13 February 2024

This article is a transcription of an interview by May Norwood, with Rosie Day, who has been a student on the VIP since its inception in 2020, and Emily McCloskey, who works as a research assistant on the project.

May: So, thank you both for doing this interview. It’s really appreciated. Hopefully people will enjoy it on the blog. I guess I just wanted to start at the beginning with asking how you heard about the project, and what first drew you to get involved.

Rosie: So, Julie [Dr Julie Oswald, VIP supervisor, Director VIP St Andrews], was my advisor in 3rd year, because she’s the advisor for all Marine Biology students, and we sort of just had a meeting to chat. I think we were chatting about modules and then it came up that I wanted more experience in marine mammal stuff and she was like, ‘Well, Vincent and I have this data you could just go through, but we’re starting this project. Would it be something you’re interested in? I can tell you now that you would get in even though you have to apply because there’s not many people.’ I just wanted to get experience. And Julie was always really lovely.

May: And did you just sort of really enjoy it? And then you stayed because of that?

Rosie: Yeah, I have issues letting go. So that’s just ended up with me staying semester after semester. Then, in my 4th year, because I did my project with Vincent [Prof Vincent Janik, VIP supervisor], doing VIP really helped because they were learning things at the same time. That was the point where we started doing ArtWarp [specialist software used in the VIP, for more see our ‘What We Do’ page]. And then I was using ArtWarp for my project. So, it was good to learn that at the same time instead of having to do it on the side.

May: I suppose you didn’t come to it as a student, Emily.

Emily: Yeah. So, I heard about it when I was at the start of 2nd semester, third year, I think it was, but I’d missed the cut-off, so I did an internship with one of Julie’s Masters students at the time instead. Yeah, and then in 4th year again, I somehow missed the deadline to apply for it. But my 4th year project was really intense anyway, with the data analysis I had to do. So then when I started my Masters with Julie, she was like, ‘Yeah, you should come to the meetings!’. So yeah, I’ve never really been involved with actually doing any of the whistle measuring or extraction. I’ve kind of always just being there as a support and to learn what they’re doing, because I don’t study whistles, I study burst pulses. So, it was nice to hear more about whistles.

May: You’ve both been involved for quite a long time, so has the project changed at all since you’ve gotten involved? And are there any new directions that have surprised you? Like with new students coming in, maybe?

Rosie: I mean, it definitely has changed and evolved. It was a lot more like a course with loads of bits of coursework in the first semester, and I think Julie and Vincent learned in the first year that that wasn’t really conducive to doing research. So, it’s changed a lot in the way it’s assessed, not maybe so much in what’s being done. The computer science side has always been a lot more flexible than the dolphin side because we’ve always known what we’re aiming for, which is to describe whistle repertoires. But the approach to how the module is run has changed quite a lot.

May: That’s very interesting as well. And then I wanted to ask, what have you gotten out of the VIP? Because you’ve been doing it for a long time and have stuck through it from undergrad all the way up, so, are there any particular skills that you thought were useful, or knowledge that you thought was useful?

Rosie: I mean it really became a networking opportunity because I met Julie and Vincent, and got to know them very well. Then that led to me doing this Masters [the St Andrews Marine Mammal Masters]. Even though I thought about the Masters a bit, not hugely. Then Julie encouraged me to apply for it. And then I did that, and then it’s gone on to me developing my own PhD project and applying for funding with them. So yes, it’s changed my trajectory, I mean, I always wanted to do a PhD, but it’s allowed me to do a PhD in exactly what I wanted to do, and then the skills that I’ve learned I’m now using in my PhD as well. So, it’s been the basis, the foundation for what I’m now doing, in more ways than one.

May: Yes. And I guess you, Emily, are doing it more as a support role, has that taught you anything interesting?

Emily: Yeah, I mean now it’s actually part of my job description as a research assistant. I’m involved in the data organisation of the VIP, which is lots of fun. There’s pros and cons to it. I’m a very organised person so that that’s been fun, and then I’ve also helped out with teaching Raven and PAMGuard to the new students. Raven is all I’ve used for my burst pulses in the last three years. So that was nice to impart my wisdom.

Rosie: It’s really fun to teach students something that you know really well, and I think it makes it more collaborative as a project because the students are teaching others. So, that’s been really fun running the workshops and so on.

May: Is it nice meeting various people as they come through the VIP and either stay for a few years, or maybe just stay for a semester?

Rosie: Yeah, it’s been really nice meeting lots of people.

Emily: It’s really cool how many different backgrounds end up applying for it and doing it, and then how many people just stay not doing it for credit anymore, which is quite a lot.

Rosie: We retain a lot of students, and what’s really interesting was at the conference, I think it was last year or the year before, when the guy came out from the original university where they did the VIP. He was like, ‘We don’t allow people to do it unless they’re taking it for credit’. When he came around to talk to us, I said, well, the majority of the people who do our VIP are not doing it for credit and for us it works really, really well. So, I don’t know if that’s a difference between America and the UK or it’s just how Julie and Vincent run the project.

Emily: Yeah, I think it’s just how they run it. For people not taking it for credit it’s just like, not the pressure. Everyone just does what they can when they can, and it ends up working really well.

May: Yeah. I’m not taking it for credit this year, but I really like the outreach, so I’m doing things like this interview. So, I guess it follows on from the previous question, but I wanted to ask, how influential was your experience with the VIP when you were deciding what to do after your undergrad?

Rosie: It showed me that I really love research and so it changed, well, didn’t change, but it sort of confirmed what I thought. Yeah, and so it led me into doing what I’m doing now, which is more research!

May: Absolutely. And, finally, just a fun one to end on, do you have a favourite species of dolphin? I know we’re probably all biased because we have particular species that we work with, but if you had to pick one, what would you go for?

Emily: I’m totally biased, but yeah, mine is Northern right whale dolphins, which is what I study.

Rosie: I don’t really know! My favourite dolphin changes by the paper because I’m reading lots of papers at the moment. Often I’ll Google which species it is and see what they look like, and they’re all just really cute.

Emily: My favourite local species is bottlenose dolphins, but again, I’ve adopted bottlenose dolphins since I was, like, nine years old. Very biased, yeah.

Rosie: Loads of my research is on bottlenose dolphins. I do really love them, and I’ve seen them in person, they’re amazing.

Emily: Oh, you know what are also really cute ones? Irrawady dolphins. They have my whole heart.

Rosie: I love Hector’s dolphins. So cute.

Emily: We can’t pick!

May: I’m really liking Atlantic humpback dolphins at the minute because I think they really do live up to their name.

Emily: They look so hench.

May: That’s a really nice thing as well about doing this project. You can mention a random species of dolphin and people will know what you’re talking about. Anyway, I think that was everything I wanted to ask. So, thank you both so much for talking to me!

The dolphin species mentioned in this interview, with images from NOAA Fisheries and Uko Gorter

 

Image references

Atlantic Humpback Dolphin Takes Step Toward Endangered Species Act Protection | Animal Welfare Institute (2021). Available at: https://awionline.org/press-releases/atlantic-humpback-dolphin-takes-step-toward-endangered-species-act-protection (Accessed: 6 February 2024).

Common Bottlenose Dolphin | NOAA Fisheries (no date). Available at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/common-bottlenose-dolphin (Accessed: 6 February 2024).

Hector’s Dolphin | NOAA Fisheries (no date) NOAA. Available at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/hectors-dolphin (Accessed: 6 February 2024).

Irrawaddy dolphin – River Dolphins (2021). Available at: https://www.riverdolphins.org/river-dolphins-worldwide/irrawaddy-dolphin/ (Accessed: 6 February 2024).

Northern Right Whale Dolphin | NOAA Fisheries (no date). Available at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/northern-right-whale-dolphin (Accessed: 6 February 2024).

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