Into the world of the Houses of Parliament: writing, writing, writing

And suddenly, it’s all over! After three months working at POST, I’m now sat back in the Exeter office and back to PhD life. I can’t believe that I finally have a POSTnote on UK Fisheries Management – I’ll admit there were points during the writing of it that I never thought I would get it finished, but I’m super excited to share it with you now!

So after the first two months of reading, researching and interviewing people for the POSTnote, January rapidly became my writing month. After all the mind maps and initial drafts, it was time to get a first full draft written in proper POSTnote format. Boy, was that hard! My interviews and reading had helped confirm my already held beliefs that UK fisheries management is by no means a simple or small topic to try and cover in four pages, especially given the future complexities of Brexit. As a fisheries scientist myself this was something I struggled with at the start of writing as for me everything seemed important and I felt it needed to be included. As the writing process went on, I realized that this a) simply wasn’t possible and b) wasn’t entirely necessary – in order for people to initially understand a topic it doesn’t mean they necessarily need to know everything single thing about it. It was my job to tell them the key points, issues and concepts in the simplest and most logical way possible.

After many drafts, the next stage in the writing process was to send it to colleagues within POST and the Commons Library for internal review. This is one of the first big checks the POSTnote goes through – do people that haven’t been working on it and don’t have much of a background (if at all) of the topic understand your POSTnote? After receiving their comments back, I ate some chocolate and Biscoff from a jar and got on with writing another few drafts. This drafting stage focused a lot on getting the structure and content right – key things for any good POSTnote.

The next stage was to then send it off for external review. This part is really important as it allowed the experts that I had interviewed to read over it and provide comments. Once I had their comments back, we then went through every comment one by one to see how we could address it and include it. Again, full of coffee and Biscoff, I set about doing a few more drafts. I really didn’t realise the extent to which every word is considered and debated during the writing, and how many times you end up re-writing a section to cut it down by a few extra words. However, this level of detail is so important to make sure that the information presented is accurate and appropriately reflects what you want to say – given you have to distill so much complexity into so few words, every word really does count! The whole process has also got me well accustomed to having a word document that is just a sea of red tracked-changes from multiple people – something I think will be handy for future PhD and science writing!

Finally the POSTnote was ready for the final stage – sign off! At this point, the POSTnote is read by the director of POST and checked again. Luckily there were just a few changes to make before we had the final version! There was a lot of high fiving and dancing at this point, followed by a few pints at Westminster’s Sports and Social Bar. However, having the final POSTnote wasn’t quite the end – I then had to finish organising a breakfast briefing!

Sponsored by the British Ecological Society, the POSTnote was officially launched at an event for invited MPs, Peers and other Parliamentary staff. I was so nervous about running this event, not only because MPs and Peers would be attending (ek!) but also because our guest list was almost double the capacity of the room! We knew that fisheries were a current topic of interest within Parliament, but the amount of people that signed up was more than we had bargained for! However, it was super exciting to have this level of interest and luckily everyone that came did end up getting a seat. Holly Lynch MP (Shadow Defra Minister for Flooding and Coastal Communities) chaired the session and we had about 13 MPs and Peers in attendance, which was great. I also invited 8 speakers from academia, industry and the third sector to speak and there was plenty of time for discussions and debate. There were some lively moments, but it was great to see so many people engaged and passionate about fisheries!

After the event, it was time to pack up my desk and head for some leaving drinks before returning to Exeter the next day. It feels a bit weird to be back and I’m struggling to remember what I was doing before I left… I’m also missing my hall pass to explore Westminster but I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to work at POST at such an exciting time. If any other PhD students fancy doing one of these fellowships, I would thoroughly recommend. So, with that I’ll finish with a final big thanks to the BES for funding my fellowship, to everyone I spoke to as part of the POSTnote process and of course to POST for letting me work there! It’s a great team to work with and I’ll miss them all!

A packed room for the breakfast briefing – I may have overdone it on the catering, but at least the office was well fed afterwards!

As part of the London Lumiere festival Westminster Abbey was lit up – a lovely sight after a long day of writing!

Parliamentary archives tour – the archives are stored in the Victoria Tower and span over 12 floors! Archives tour! So many rollsGetting very excited in the archives…


Into the world of the Houses of Parliament: Part 2

And suddenly it’s 2018 and I’m two thirds of the way through my placement. Where has time gone?! Happy New Year everyone!  I’m back in London now after a bit of time spent at home for the festive break and having a detox from all things fish and Brexit. I’m feeling ready for the last push for getting this POSTnote done! Everything is a little quiet here at the moment as it’s currently recess, which means there is less to distract me as I start to write!

December pretty much happened in a blur of interviews. I tried to jam pack as many as I could in before everyone got busy with the annual fisheries council meetings and before finishing for the Christmas break. The grand total so far stands at around 25, with 5 or so still to go. I didn’t realise quite how many interviews the POSTnote process can involve – we really do rely on these to help provide us not only with the background information but also different perspectives on the topics and different evidence sources. It’s such much quicker (and fun!) to chat with someone then trawl through the internet for hours. I’ve loved doing them and getting to speak to different people – the challenge will now be pulling out the key themes and drawing some conclusions.

Speaking of which, when not doing interviews, I’ve also been attempting to start drafting the POSTnote. Of course the first step has been making a few mind maps. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love a good mind map!

Once I had some mind maps and a few themes generally emerging, the next thing I found useful was to make a Post-it note POSTnote. Basically, stick some ideas on Post-it notes, swap them around, rub them out, chuck them away, add more on etc etc.

The result was something that helped to get the general flow (for the moment at least) straight in my head. Once I did that the next stage for me was to start writing each section in a bit more detail in a word document. That’s the stage I’m currently at. It’s a rough draft, mainly full of bullet points, and it’s at 7 pages. Hmmmm. Something tells me this process could take a while!! But, it’s enjoyable none the less and really makes you think about the key points that you want to get across, the most succinct and clear way you can present that information and how best to tell your story. Wish me luck!

There were also a few interesting events that took place in Parliament in December. The first really fun thing that I got to be involved in was the ‘fake parliament’ exercise that was held in a temporary chamber. People were asked to volunteer to be involved in the exercise so that if some sort of emergency such as a fire occurs in the future and the chambers in the Palace couldn’t be used, parliamentary business could still continue. This exercise isn’t carried out very often, so it was really unique to be part of it and also very useful for the estate staff to know how things could work in the event of such an emergency. We got to pretend to be Peers and then later MPs, acting out debates and voting on things. It was a really cool way to get a better sense of how Parliament works, and I think the organisers were pretty pleased with how smoothly it ran!

Aside from that, the EFRA committee have been busy with their fisheries work. Another evidence session on the impact of Brexit on fisheries and trade was held, whilst Michael Gove MP and George Eustice MP were also questioned on Brexit and trade, with fisheries forming part of the talks. There was also the annual fisheries debate that I went along to, which had a range of discussions including bass fishing, future Brexit implications and also some poignant speeches remembering those fishermen who had lost their lives at sea last year. Of course George Eustice also went along to the annual December council meetings, the outcomes of which you can find here. I also attended Prime Ministers Questions, which was really fun to watch – such a lively atmosphere and my MP also raised a question which was nice to see. The final exciting thing I did was attending a carol service hosted by Mr Speaker – certainly a unique way to start getting in the festive spirit!

That’s all for now I think, this month I’ll be doing my final few interviews and buckling down writing up the briefing! I also await the fisheries white paper with baited breath… I must also try and book onto an official tour of the Palace, rather than using my current strategy of wandering round until I find where I need to be (which is also rather fun I guess!), or only navigating to the many onsite restaurants and cafes!


Into the world of the Houses of Parliament: 1 month down

So before I know it, I’ve spent one month working at POST (the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology) and what a month it’s been! Leaving Exeter and moving back to the big smoke, working in a new office with new colleagues, and breaking out of the academic bubble for a bit. It’s been a bit of a blur, but so far so good…

I’m working at POST as part of a fellowship which is supported by the British Ecological Society and allows me to work there for 3 months to write a POSTnote. In case you’re wondering what POST or a POSTnote is, let me fill you in. POST is essentially parliament’s in-house source of science advice, providing independent and balanced analyses of public policy issues related to science and technology. By doing this, it provides MPs and Peers with information in an accessible and timely way that can help to increase understanding and awareness on often-complex topics. A board of parliamentarians and external experts oversees the work of POST. And, a myth buster – we don’t actually work inside Westminster Palace – we work further up the road. So not quite as fancy as you might imagine, but we do get a hall pass for the whole estate!

POSTnotes are one of the main mechanisms through which POST provides this information, and these are four-page briefings that summarise current knowledge on a topic. To go about producing one is a well-formulated step-by-step process that I’m currently in the middle of. It normally starts with a desk based literature review to help develop the scope of the POSTnote and get you up to speed on what topics you’ll cover. The next step, which I’m doing at the moment, involves interviewing relevant stakeholders from academia, industry, government and the third sector to get their perspectives and essentially help to flesh the POSTnote out. I’m really enjoying this part!

When I first found out I had got the fellowship (which, by the way, was my second time applying so always worth persevering for something you want!), it was still a bit uncertain as to what my topic would be about. But luckily for me – and it was a bit pot luck really – the topic is Fisheries Management! I can’t begin to tell you how unbelievably exciting it is to be a fisheries scientist working in Parliament at such a time when fisheries really is such a hot topic. It’s not often that fisheries have quite the interest and debate they are receiving at the moment, so it’s super interesting to be working right in the middle of it. The scope of the note is quite broad (you can get an idea of what I’m writing about here) and whilst Brexit is an inevitable focus I am keen to try and keep wider governmental policies and agendas in mind so that it has a bit more longevity. Trying to fit everything into 4 pages is going to be a huge challenge!

As part of the work I’m really fortunate to be able to interview loads of different people and having an email address means you can contact people right at the top and talk to them, which is something you don’t get to do everyday! I’ve spoken to lots of lovely people already, and it’s been interesting to hear their views and perspectives. Aside from doing interviews, I’ve also managed to go to some events and meetings to help broaden my understanding of the topics and get more information. I attended the Best Practices in World Fisheries conference in which we heard about different fisheries management systems from around the world and considered how some of their practices may be incorporated into future UK management. It was a great event with many different people from various sectors, which made for some thought-provoking conversations. I also went to the Seafish Common Languages meeting which they hold a few times a year, which gave me a good opportunity to network and also hear views from the seafood sector which I haven’t until this point had much involvement with.

Aside from these meetings, I couldn’t not talk about the fact that I also have a free hall pass for all of Westminster! It’s so exciting! I can’t believe that I can turn up to debates or events that are happening within the palace – it’s a real privilege I’m still pinching myself about. In November there were a few things on that I went to – an event showcasing Brexit related social and economic research in Portcullis House, a debate about ‘The UK’s involvement in degradation of the marine environment’, and the first opening session for the EFRA committee’s inquiry on ‘Fisheries’. I sadly missed their next oral evidence session, but that’s what Parliament TV is for!

It’s nice to say that the ‘Blue Planet effect’ is live and kicking in Westminster – so many MPs have referenced it! It’s also been eye opening, particularly at the marine degradation debate, about how well informed some MPs are about some of these marine issues. Before I started working here I obviously knew that they had a huge amount of different things to be dealing with, but now I’m exposed to the daily updates about what’s happening across Westminster each day, through emails or flashing up on screens in the office, it’s given me a new appreciation for the variety and  amount of things they have to consider. It was encouraging to see many MPs speaking passionately about the marine environment, and it also made me realise just how important it is to communicate science issues effectively to ensure they are heard or considered – something I’m hoping to learn more about whilst I’m here!

For now I think I’ve filled you in enough – December looks full of more interviews, some more debates and even some carols in Westminster Hall! And today I’m off to watch PMQs! Quickly though as a bit of a side note, I also wanted to mention the other thing I did this month which was to attend an ICES course in Copenhagen as part of my PhD work. The course was focused on Bayesian Network Analysis and has been something that’s been on my ‘to-do’ list for a while. It gave me a really good initial understanding of what BNs actually are, the contexts which you can use it in and lots of ideas for future projects! I would definitely recommend the course to anyone interested in learning Bayesian, it wasn’t as scary as I initially thought…!

Sun, sea, science and sloths

My last post was quite a while ago now so I thought it was about time to catch up on what I’ve been up to. The last few months have been a little busy, with lots of things going on with different deadlines and to do lists!

Something that I really enjoyed doing towards the end of the summer was to do a bit of public engagement at some local seafood festivals. I’ve always been a bit nervous doing this kind of thing – the imposter syndrome was holding me back and what happened if someone asked me something I didn’t know the answer to?! However, the prospect of being able to go to a variety of fish festivals in Cornwall and Devon was too tempting and so I decided to put myself outside of my comfort zone and go for it! I’m so glad I did as I had a great time! It was pretty tiring, but it was also so fun to talk to different people and engage them in our work. And it turned out I did know a bit more than I thought I did…

The first place we went was to Newlyn fish festival, where myself and my colleague Nigel Sainsbury and supervisor Rachel Turner had a stall about ‘Fisheries in the Future’. We had two main activities, namely a wave tank borrowed from the engineering department which we used to demonstrate changing storminess and the effect that could have on fishing, and a ‘hook the fish’ game to entice people to come over so we could chat about climate change and its impacts. We also had a board for people to put post-it notes on about what they thought were big issues for fisheries in the future. This resulted in quite a few different responses, a common one being plastic and wider pollution, but also some issues regarding wider management and sustainability.

I then took the stall to Brixham’s FishStock, minus the wave machine, and did the same thing there. Both events were really well attended and I had a lot of fun talking to people. It was nice to see people interested in our work and I enjoyed spreading the word! I would encourage any researchers to do this sort of thing if they can as I found it really rewarding and was a good way to break out of the academic bubble for a little while. I also definitely recommend going to those fish festivals – they were fantastic and had lots of yummy, local seafood!

Between organising those events and doing my normal PhD research, I was also busy preparing for the ICES Annual Science Conference in September where I had been accepted to give a talk. Ek! It was one of my PhD goals when I first started to eventually do a talk at this conference so I was both really excited and also pretty nervous! It was touch a go for a little while as to whether we would all end up going there as the hurricane season got a little crazy and the conference was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. However, we got the go ahead and before I knew it I was on a plane headed for Miami!

After a day to catch up on jet lag and chill out on the beach, the conference got into full swing and it was time for some science. My talk wasn’t until the last day in the last session, which was a bit annoying but at least allowed me the rest of the conference to relax into and figure out. It was my first time going to an ICES conference, so I was a little unsure what to expect. However, it turned out to be way better than I thought – there were lots of interesting sessions, it was super friendly and there was plenty of time put aside for discussions either in the breaks or in their ‘open sessions’. I haven’t been to a conference with open sessions before but I really liked them – they were an opportunity to focus down on a topic and talk to others about it in a relaxed environment. I think that was a really nice quality of the whole meeting – it was relaxed and friendly and you felt you could approach anyone if you had something that you wanted to ask them. Particularly useful for someone who hasn’t been to one of these conferences before! I also took part in the mentor scheme whilst I was there which was a great way to meet other scientists, early career or otherwise, and also find out more about ICES or ask any other burning questions.

It finally then came to the last day of the conference and my talk! I was put in the session ‘Projected impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems, wild captured and cultured fisheries, and fishery dependent communities’. It was a really interesting session, starting out with a focus more on the biogeochemical changes associated with climate change in our seas, before moving towards projections on species and then ultimately on communities and society. I got a lot of ideas during the session for future work, and it was also helpful to hear about other projects happening around the world to address some of these issues. I gave my talk in the afternoon, and I think it went ok! I went a bit fast as I was nervous, but overall I enjoyed giving it and had some people come to talk to me at the end which was nice. It felt good to cross that off my ‘PhD bucket list’!

With the end of the conference came the beginning of my holiday, which I had been looking forward to for a long time – it was time to go to Central America! After putting on my ‘out of office’ email and saying goodbye to new and old friends with a drink (or three, four…) the next day I got up bright and early to fly to Guatemala. I travelled for around 3 weeks down to Costa Rica, and had the most amazing time. I even saw sloths!! Sloths! Sooooo cool!!!

So, after a month away from the desk it’s back to it. But not for long – I have until the end of the month here in Exeter before I move to London to start my placement with the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology. I am super excited (and also nervous!) to start and to move back to the big smoke for a while. Stay tuned for updates for me navigating the political world and finding the right room in Westminster palace…


Early start for Newlyn fish festival…

Another beautiful day in Brixham!

Not a bad place for a conference!

Holiday time…



Cefas summer sampling

Another year, another Cefas survey. I’ve recently got back from helping out on the July survey, which I first took part in 2015, and I’m happy to say I’ve got my land legs back! For this trip we set sail from Portland and spent two weeks sampling in the eastern English Channel and the southern North Sea, going along the English and French coasts and spending a day in Belgium too. There are multiple aims for this trip, but the first and foremost is to collect high quality data for the sole and plaice stocks within the region, which can then be fed into stock advice and assessments for this area.

Having done a few surveys now, it was pretty easy to get back into the swing of things and it felt really great to get back out to sea and see some fish! The species we caught were pretty much what we expected/ what has been caught previously in other trips, including sole, plaice, brill, turbot, haddock, John dory, dab, poor cod, flounder, bib, gurnards – the list goes on! In my mind at least we seemed to catch quite a lot of turbots and brills this year, as well as lots of weever fish (not sure how this stands trends wise, I’ve only done the survey twice).  We also got some species that I hadn’t seen before – a Montagu’s seasnail (this was a fish, not a snail) which was tiny and very cute, some two-spotted cling-fish (again, cute and tiny), and lots of mantis shrimp which were fun to look at. Similarly to 2015, we also got lots of baby cuttlefish which were really, really cute and I could have watched them for hours!

I enjoyed getting a bit more involved in the benthos sampling this year too (which basically means looking at all the teeny tiny stuff that’s on the sea floor) and learning about some of the species. You certainly need very good ID skills and a specialist knowledge for that part of the sampling and it always impresses me how people on board are able to tell the difference between what looks like (to me at least) the same piece of seaweed or tiny crab. I also felt that I’ve improved on my otolithing (taking the otoliths, which are like tiny ear bones, from the fish) and maturing and sexing of fish. I’m certainly not as quick as some of the other Cefas staff but I managed to get otoliths from a 2.5cm dab this year so I gave myself a pat on the back for that one!!

Taking this information, which is done for many of the species we catch, helps to provide important insights about the status and health of the stock; for example the age structure and the spawning stock biomass (i.e. the total weight of fish in a stock that are old enough to spawn). This data is given over to ICES – the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea – who collate this with information from other surveys to generate stock advice and assessments. These assessments are then ultimately used as part of the process for determining the fishing quotas for fish stocks within the North East Atlantic region. The really cool thing about this data though (I think anyway) is that it is also freely available online! This means that not only can the data be used for the important process of stock assessments and quota setting, but also in wider scientific research regarding the marine environment and fish stocks. I myself use a range of the survey data from all around the British Isles in my work and it is a fantastic resource to use. Working on the boat is a nice way for me to give something back after using so much of this data within my own work.

After two weeks and with lots of empty sweet and biscuit packets in tow, it was time to head back and dock into Lowestoft. It was a really fun trip, despite not getting much sunny weather that I was promised! A trip to the pub helped to diminish any sad feelings of the survey being over as for me I fear this could be my last trip. As the PhD ramps up into the final stages I feel I should hang up the oilies for a while and get more comfortable in the office chair, much to my disapproval! I’ve absolutely loved spending some of my time during my studies aboard the Cefas Endeavour. She is a great ship to be on, with wonderful crew and lots of friendly Cefas staff to work and relax with. A big thank you to all who have let me on these trips (you know who you are!) – it has been amazing! So to finish, have a look at some of the cool species we caught – I didn’t take as many photos this year given I already have lots of pictures from previous surveys, but I thought I’d share some more anyway!



Fresh perspectives on fisheries science: attending my first social science conference

Earlier this month I got the opportunity to go to the MARE conference in Amsterdam. This marine event that has long been on my calendar since I started my PhD and finally this year I got the chance to go! I’m so glad I did – it was a really friendly, interesting and fun conference which has left me inspired and with a new energy to get analysing all of my interview data!

The theme of the conference was ‘Dealing with Marine Mobilities’, so just a slightly broad remit! As such, it exposed me to a number of new topics, some of which I had very little experience of. A few particular highlights for me included hearing about modern slavery in the fishing industry from Prof Christina Stringer, being taken aboard European cargo-ships through the story telling of anthropologist Johanna Markkula, being told about the role of drama and dance in connecting communities to their past maritime heritage, as well as hearing about the psychological coping mechanisms Alaskan fishermen use whilst at sea.

The range and breadth of the conference was inspiring whilst at times also overwhelming – there were so many interesting sessions which inevitably couldn’t all be attended! I focused most of my attention to fisheries sessions given it’s my main research area, but I also attended a few outside of my own remit. I myself spoke in one of the ‘Coastal threats and vulnerability’ sessions to talk about my research that I have been undertaking regarding UK fishermen’s perceptions of climate change and its potential future impact on fisheries in the south-west UK region. I admit I was a bit nervous – it was my first 15-minute talk at an international conference and I wasn’t entirely sure how to pitch it given that I’m not a social scientist and haven’t attended a social science orientated conference before. However, it went really well and I got some useful feedback and ideas that I am hoping will help take my research forward!

Some of the other sessions that I attended were run by other researchers from Exeter University. One of my supervisors Rachel Turner, alongside Lucy Szaboova, held a great session surrounding ‘Health and the hidden vulnerability in fishing communities’. A range of talks in this session with case studies from Cornwall, North and North-West Ireland and Australia demonstrated the importance of understanding the health of fishermen, both physical and mental, and how this can be tackled. Discussions surrounded the culture of silence that exists within many fishing communities regarding health issues, particularly mental health, the accessibility of health care for fishermen who often work difficult and long hours, and the perspectives from which we can view these issues e.g. from wellbeing or economic viewpoints.

Carole White of UEA and Madeleine Gustavsson of Exeter University ran a session entitled ‘A future for fishing? Intergenerational perspectives on social (im)mobilities and fishing identities’. I found this session particularly thought provoking in part because it emerged as a theme within my own work with fishermen and the wider industry in Brixham. Currently there is a lack of recruitment into the fishing industry in many parts of the globe, and the talks at this session helped to explore current trends, some of the reasons behind this and what initiatives there are or could be developed to help address these issues.

Overall I found this a really great conference, particularly as an early career researcher due its openness and supportive atmosphere. Some other reflections I’ve had can be summed up in my typical blog post list style:

  • The marine environment is pretty complicated and has lots of stakeholders! Obvious, and I kind of knew this already, but getting out of the fisheries bubble for a few days made me realise that lots of other industries rely on the marine environment. I’ll leave the marine spatial planning to someone else though I think….!


  • Social scientists are a fun and friendly bunch. I was a bit nervous about attending as I felt that I might be a bit out of place as an ecologist, but I soon felt at ease. I particularly enjoyed the boat ride winding through Amsterdam’s canals to reach the conference on the first day – great ice breaker!


  • There are many research perspectives that can be harnessed to approach similar problems. I often am guilty of thinking from my ecological perspective, but it was really refreshing to be exposed to the ways other researchers are thinking about and addressing similar research questions. I guess the challenge is utilising all of these in the best way to make effective change!


  • Social scientists (incl. (and not limited to) anthropologists, sociologists, human geographers etc) are really great storytellers. Something that really stood out to me was the way people talked about their research – there was much more emphasise on the narratives and wider story of the research people had undertaken. So natural scientists take note! Stories, experiences and narratives are much more compelling and engaging than simple research messages (I think at least).

I think I’ve rambled on enough now, suffice to say it was a great conference and I would encourage others, including those with non social science backgrounds, to attend. Here’s to 2019!

Some self reflections in the Stedelijk Museum after the conference – would recommend a visit!


Summer fun at Brixham trawler race

So earlier this month I went to Brixham trawler race! What is that I hear you cry? Well, to sum it up, it’s pretty much a race in the bay between Brixham and Torquay where the trawler boats from Brixham go out, have a race round, and then come back for a BBQ and lots of booze! I managed to win a competition to go out on a huge Dutch trawler called the Arandjan, who had come over specifically for the race, and even had a live band on the boat after we docked! I invited my friend to come with me and we had the best day – the weather was perfect, everyone was in high spirits and we ate and drank till we were merry. We didn’t win but we still had fun!

Here’s some pictures from the race. You can see drone footage of the race here