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Introducting Chris

Chris Hitchcock clh at vax.oxford.ac.uk
Mon Aug 30 08:36:52 EST 1993

Here's another introduction.

I'm a (female) post-doctoral fellow at Oxford University, working with 
John Krebs and Alasdair Houston. I do research in mathematical 
ecology, looking at (mainly) behavioural decisions through the lens of 
evolution and economic optimality theory. I am funded 
by the Canadian Natural Sciences and Engineering Research council for 
2 years. My funding ends in February, so I'm job hunting. I'm hoping to 
return to Canada. My initial training was in mathematics, but I always 
wanted to be biologist eventually. I spent my summers doing research 
in medical and biological labs with my salaries paid through 
scholarships. Good experience, and it helped me figure out what was 
important for me in a working environment. I studied math because I 
couldn't bear to give it up, and because I found the "gulp and vomit" 
content of early biology courses hard to get enthused about. :-)

My graduate training involved studying animal behaviour, particularly 
food hoarding behaviour of black-capped chickadees. It was mostly 
experiments, looking at the duration of spatial memory for hoard 
locations, and the risks of theft by other flock members.

My post-doc has been purely theoretical; I've been bringing the 
behavioural ecology and mathematical background I have together. I'm 
working on a lot of different projects, many collabortively. In 
addition to more models of the economics of hoarding, I'm working on projects 
on disease and population structure, plant decisions between somatic 
growth and chemical defense against herbivores, an algebraic 
exploration of a particular operant schedule with pigeons, and some 
other odds and ends. 

I'm realizing that I really like the synergy of 
collaboration. I'm also continuing to teach statistics to undergraduates 
(perhaps the most consistently rewarding thing I do). On paper it looks a
bit strange to have done undergraduate work in math, graduate training 
in psychology and post-doctoral work in zoology. But it's actually given 
me quite a good complement of skills and perspectives on animal behaviour. 
And I like variety in my research.

In terms of personal life, I'm 29, and have a pretty special 
relationship with a man who I left behind in Canada. So we've been 
apart for 18 months, and face another 6. That's hard, but it was also 
important to me personally to do it, to put my career first this time. 
I regret having made a choice to restrict my graduate opportunities 
for a relationship before, and was determined not to do it again. He 
works in industry in a totally different field (computer graphics and 
films), which means the two-body problem is both harder and easier. At 
least he earns a good enough salary that we don't skimp on telephone 
bills, and we visit each other every few months. And we have email. 
It's still hard.

Now I've done that, and I've learned a lot from being here, both 
because of the experience I've gained here, and because of the 
experience of spending some time living somewhat independently. We're 
now working on being in the same place at the same time. We spent 10 
days in July visiting Vancouver, trying to arrange some kind of 
opportunities for both of us there. I'm cautiously optimistic that at 
least something will work out. It feels like such a luxury to think of 
finally living together! 

I don't have any children yet, but want some. I've been watching my 
friends have children and be academics. Seems like there's a lot of 
luck of the draw of how 'good' the child is, how intrusive being 
pregnant is. I'm not ready yet to "just do it", but the time is 
getting closer.

I've got a lot of interest in understanding women's issues both as a
woman and as a scientist. I read a fair bit of feminist work, and spend 
some time tilting at anti-feminist windmills on UseNet :-). And I 
appreciate the life-mentoring I've had from women scientists, and try 
to give out more of it as I can manage. Bound up with the other 
stresses of finishing my PhD was the feeling that I wasn't going to be 
able to compartmentalize "how to be a woman" from "how to be a scientist" any 
more. Merging those ideas was quite traumatic, took work and time. In the 
end I decided to be my own role model, to free myself from the need do 
it like someone else did it. That was a liberating thought. And now 
there's this resource of women who can share experiences, which I 
greatly appreciate.

On that note, I'll describe a research project that's most of the way 
to done:
While I was a graduate student I started a project with Donna Holmes
to look at the gender of researchers in our field of animal behaviour
in relation to the type of the research they do. The project arose out
of sheer curiousity, because there are quite a few women in the Animal
Behaviour Society, and it feels like a comfortable place for women.
There were a lot of idle speculations about what might be attracting
women to animal behaviour, and we decided to test these hypotheses.
Three years later we've looked at 10 years of animal behaviour
abstracts from our annual conference, and coded 20-odd variables, such
as the animal studied (taxonomic group, age and sex), whether the
study was lab or field, the departmental affiliation of the
researcher, gender of first and second authors, whether the study
involved social behaviour, dominance, sexual selection, parental
behaviour, and so forth. We started with 2500+ abstracts, but after
only including the first presentation of each author, we're down to
N=1599. It was a good thesis avoidance task to code the abstracts :-),
and the final results are just done. I've been learning GLIM to 
analyse the data properly. I'm really looking forward to finally
getting this done; it's to my knowledge the biggest study of it's 
kind,and also one of the first to look at women in a field in which we're
well represented and comfortable.

Hope this isn't too long-winded an introduction! I'm happy to see the 
introductions of women in this group. Also, am I the only non-molecular 


Chris Hitchcock			clh at vax.ox.ac.uk
EGI, Dept of Zoology
South Parks Road		formerly: chris at psych.toronto.edu	
Oxford OX1 3PS			Still reading UseNet 
ENGLAND				for the signatures.

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