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Ornela De Gasperin Quintero

ornelaI’ve been working for two years in my PhD in the Department of Zoology. I am a member of the Behavioural Ecology Group, and I am interested on the social evolution of species. I’m particularly interested in understanding how trophic interactions (like parasitism and competition) may affect the extent of social conflict of cooperation within family members. I work on the trophic interaction between burying beetles and phoretic mites as a model system, and have been investigating how phoretic mites may affect family dynamics in the burying beetle. My work is mainly performed in the lab. We keep a colony of burying beetles, and we use beetles from this stock to perform experiments. We also collect beetles from the field between May and September, and we’re trying to monitor the reproductive success of burying beetles in the field.

Doing a PhD in Cambridge will provide you a lot of independence in how you manage your time. During my PhD I have had the opportunity to follow different types of research lines, and to perform experiments in the field and in laboratory. I have also had the opportunity of getting involved in different projects and acquiring different skills, from science communication, programming, teaching experience, first-aid training, and organizing student symposiums within the University.



The Department of Zoology is a very friendly place to study, and Cambridge offers an enormous amount of classes, courses, societies and sports groups that you can join and attend. It is also it is one of the most international universities in the world, so you’ll meet people from all over the world with very different ideas to yours. The college system brings together people from very different academic formations, which makes Cambridge a very stimulating place to study.








Biswa Sengupta (Neurobiology)

BiswaHi, I am a 2nd year PhD student in the Neurobiology Group where I conduct theoretical studies on the role of metabolic energy on information processing in single neuron models. Before coming to Cambridge, I had been a graduate student at the Max Planck Institute in Tuebingen, Germany where I primarily focussed on electrophysiology and novel machine learning methods to analyze them. I hold a bachelors in electronics & computer engineering and a masters in computer science from the University of York.

Zoology at Cambridge attracted me because of the presence of collaborative efforts from theoreticians (in physics/engineering) and experimentalists (in zoology), to understand neural function. Being a theorist, the department allowed me to appreciate how a biologist approaches a particular problem. Constant discussion with researchers and students in the tea room allowed me to critically evaluate the research ideas that I had. Weekly beer talks offer an excellent opportunity to identify research areas that are currently studied in the department. Every friday, just after the beer talks the department meets and mingles over a pizza, which offers yet another opportunity for the students to socialize !!


Stephen Town (Behavioural Neuroscience)

stephenI originally studied for my undergraduate degree in Cambridge, reading Natural Sciences and specialising in Neuroscience. Having enjoyed it so much, I decided to stay on for 4 more years and do a PhD in the neurophysiological bases of learning and memory. I work out at the Sub-department of Animal Behaviour in Madingley, a small village several miles outside of the city. There I spend most of my time running experiments and trying to decode the activity of neurones within brains of behaving animals. Despite working far away, it's easy to maintain links with the main department whether it be through seminars, Beer talks, sports teams or the annual departmental barbecue. The department has a welcoming and supportive atmosphere that was evident when I arrived in Cambridge five years ago and that continues today.


Kerrie Ford (Cell Biology)

Enlarged c elegansI studied Natural Sciences as an undergraduate at Cambridge, specialising in Genetics. Between my second and third years I did a summer project in the Baylis lab, and I enjoyed it so much I applied to do a PhD here. I'm now in my third year and still thriving on the unique challenges of a life in research.

I am studying intracellular calcium signalling in C. elegans, which allows me to explore aspects of cell biology, biochemistry, molecular biology and genetics, with a bit of neurobiology and developmental biology thrown in for good measure! One of the best things about this department is the breadth of research that goes on, allowing you to draw on the expertise of people from many different backgrounds. Although the cell biology cohort in the department is relatively small, we form a close and supportive scientific community. I chose to come here due to the irresistable combination of excellent science and great support for grad students, and discovered a lively social scene as an added bonus!


Jan-Henning Dirks (Animal Physiology)

Jan HenningBefore I started my PhD at the Department of Zoology I did my undergraduate studies in Biological Cybernetics, Neurobiology and Physics at the University of Bielefeld in Germany. My previous workgroup was developing artificial active tactile systems for their stick-insect like robot, and as a part of this project I wrote my diploma thesis about the biomechanical properties of the stick-insects antennas.

After finishing my studies I decided to spend my summer in Cambridge, doing a practical course at the Biomechanics workgroup of Dr. Federle. I was, and still am, absolutely fascinated by the amazing ability of insects to walk effortlessly on almost any kinds or surface and, although this has been studied for centuries, there are still many open questions. One of them, the function of the adhesive fluid, quickly became the focus of my PhD project.

The Insect Biomechanics Workgroup here at the Department of Zoology offers everything I need to successfully work on my thesis. Besides the freedom and facilities to develop your research and extracurricular skills, the members of the Zoology Department guide and support you wherever they can. Combined with the social and academic background of Cambridge, I can hardly imagine any better place for the first steps of an academic career.


Nouar Qutob (Evolutionary Ecology)

NouarAn important feature of the University of Cambridge, with its departments and colleges, is its ability to make a smooth link between an excellent academic atmosphere and a pleasant social circle. From both the rich academic and intellectual environment, one comes out with a well-rounded personality. Such a characteristic tempted me to become a part of the University and to pursue a graduate degree here in Cambridge.

Gladly, my experience has been a great one. I am currently the MCR President in my college, Hughes Hall, one of the few mature/graduate colleges in Cambridge. My involvement in the MCR began shortly after I started my graduate research, when I realized the importance it plays in every student's life, and which indeed allowed me to develop valuable personal skills.

As for the academic side, my interest in evolutionary studies drove me to join the Evolutionary Ecology group. Our group works on a broad range of evolutionary and ecological questions. I, personally, work on the geographic apportionment of the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) diversity. HLA is a key component of the immune system of vertebrate as it is responsible for the recognition and presentation of antigens and comprises the most polymorphic genes in vertebrates. Numerous hypotheses have been proposed to explain how this diversity could be maintained, which seems to be the product of both past demography and complex selective pressures. One such hypothesis (called Pathogen-Driven Balancing Selection) states that different alleles provide protection against different pathogens. A prediction under this hypothesis is that populations exposed to a wider variety of diseases should be characterised by higher diversity at their HLA genes. This prediction has recently received some support in humans when it was shown that once past demography was accounted for, there is a positive correlation between HLA class I within-population genetic diversity and the number of endemic diseases found in that area. My work so far indicates that the geographic apportionment of HLA diversity is the product of both past demography and complex selective pressures. It also highlights the complexity of the selective process, with the likely involvement of coevolution with KIR genes and marks differences between different classes of genes.


Eva Bearmann (Mammal Evolution and Morphology Group)

Eva MuseumI graduated from Free University in Berlin, Germany in 2007 with a study on taxonomy, biology and mating behaviour of a group of free living nematodes. During my studies, my main interest was to learn about the evolution and systematic relationships of animals, especially mammals. So I was looking fora place where I could study mammal evolution, not only with molecular data but also with the use of “good old” morphology.

For my PhD, I work on the phylogeny of Ruminantia (giraffes, deer, cows, antelopes, pronghorn, musk deer, chevrotains), a large group of terrestrial mammals with a diverse fossil record. I want to reconstruct the tree of the group, including extinct radiations, to address questions on the evolution of cranial appendages, like antlers, horns, and ossicones.

Cambridge is a great place to do this, as there is the diverse collection of the University Museum of Zoology, helpful and friendly people to work with and a range of seminars and courses to choose from to develop specialist skills. It is always possible to find someone to discuss problems with, and the daily teatime and happy hours on Fridays lets you crawl out of your office to meet fellow grad students.


Jonathan Green (Conservation Science Group)

jon greenI took my undergraduate degree in Zoology at St Andrews, which fuelled an early interest in the natural world and it was here that I became more interested in the human aspect of conservation implementation.

Following my degree, I made contact with the Conservation Science Group and I was fortunate enough to be able to do work with members of the group looking at nature-based tourism. Following this, I moved to work with the 'Valuing the Arc' project, which is a big study looking at the values of ecosystem services in the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania. It was through this project that I came about my PhD topic, which looks at both the costs and benefits of conservation in the Eastern Arc Mountains to achieve efficient protected area design.

Cambridge is a fantastic place to be based and this is particularly so for conservationists, given the huge number and breadth of conservation organisations that are based in the area. The group has a great social reputation too, which really helped me to settle in quickly.