I received my formal education in South Africa. During my graduate years I worked on the breeding behaviour of several species of frogs. After my PhD I switched to studying fiddler crabs and completed three post-docs. I then did a year of lecturing in South Africa before moving to Panama to work for the Smithsonian for the next six years, still studying fiddlers. I took up my present post as lecturer at ANU at the start of 2002. All of this experience has forged me into the truly brilliant scientist that I am.
My current research is entirely field-based and I have spent many hours sitting on sunny beaches staring at amazing little crabs. Most of my fieldwork has been carried out in Mozambique, Japan, South Africa and Central America. I am now working on tropical Australian fiddlers. My main study site is in Darwin, NT.
PhD students are a valuable part of the fiddler crab research group. Both Australian and international students can get scholarships to undertake a PhD at ANU. Australian students can apply for an APA (Australian Postgraduate Award) that covers fees and living expenses. These are competitive scholarships and to be in the running, you need my strong support (this can usually be bought with chocolates) and a first class Honours mark. Applications are due at the end of October.
International students can apply for an IPRS (International Postgraduate Research Scholarship) which pays their fees, airfare and medical insurance. They also need to apply for an ANU PhD Scholarship that pays their living expenses. IPRS scholarships are extremely competitive. Applications are due at the end of August. See the ANU Scholarships page for more information.
I have a very strong commitment to the success of my PhD students. For fiddler crab PhD's, the most sensible structure is for the thesis to be based on a set of 4-6 papers. In the first year, I work closely with the student, giving them the ideas and supporting them throughout the process of data collection. After the first field season, the student will continue to work closely with me in the writing of the papers. For the second field season, the student will play a greater role in the entire process. They will provide some of the ideas, will have greater responsibility in experimental design, analysis and writing. By the third field season, the student will be working more-or-less independently, but discussing their ideas and methods with me.
I expect students to write up their papers after each field season. This means that there is no stressful rush to write a thesis in the last six months of the PhD. I see a PhD as a slow and steady progression towards independent research. Please see the CrabLab website for information on the research station; fieldwork conditions; rules; schedules etc.
What past students say
Are you looking for a PhD, but not sure what to do?
Do you live for field work in the tropics?
Want to work on a really charismatic animal but don't want the biggest milestones to be when you're lucky enough to actually find one of them?
Does the thought of waking up at 4am or working in the rain fill you with dread? Like the idea of a supervisor that's easy to talk to and supportive?
If you answered yes to any of these questions I suggest you have a chat with Pat about doing your PhD on fiddler crabs in Darwin.
As an international PhD student, I found BoZo (now the Division of Evolution, Ecology and Genetics) a very fun and accommodating department to come into. Both the people and the research are vibrant and dynamic, making it a very stimulating working environment. I found it very easy to settle in. I also had immense fun doing a PhD under Pat Backwell. Working with the fiddler crabs in Darwin was incredibly enjoyable and provided me with so much canvas for field research. My enthusiasm and confidence for behavioural research has tripled during my time here!