Rita (Chun-Chia Chou) talks about life as a PhD student with biologist Pat Backwell - International Day of Women and Girls in Science

PhD student Rita and the Backwell field research group - studying crabs PhD student Rita and the Backwell field research group

I have known Pat since 2016 when I was looking for a PhD supervisor. I found her through the ANU website. I still remember that I was totally fascinated when I read the introduction to her research; there are all theses cool studies about fiddler crab: the research topics are interesting, the experiments look fun, and people in this lab all look happy; it did not take me a second to decide that I wanted to enter her lab and do some fun studies. I did make it! My PhD research focuses on sexual differences in response to ecological stressors, more specifically, how global warming impacts the reproduction of male and female fiddler crab; I am also interested in understanding how nutritional processes help to maintain different sexual forms  and shapes (dimorphism) in fiddler crabs.

Most of my studies were conducted in East Point Reserve in Darwin. The fieldwork days were full of heat, sweat, salinity, and fun as expected. It is a mangrove habitat supporting 9 fiddler crab species and thousands of individual crabs. These tiny creatures are amazing. The diversity of behaviour exhibited in the crabs is not limited by the small body size. You get to see the female crabs wandering around, sampling for over a hundred crabs and decide whom to mate. You can also see male crabs synchronously wave their major claws, displaying the courtship to attract a female. I really enjoyed the time spent in the mudflat watching this tiny but amazing animal.

Pat is an extremely supportive and responsible supervisor. She prepares a progress book for each of her students when they start PhD. The book is always with her when we have a meeting; the book documents the research progress, important schedule or conclusion we have in the meeting so she is always on top of the student’s progress. She is always positive, open for discussion; she cares about not only my research progress but my life and wellbeing over here in Australia. It is absolutely easy and comfortable to work with her. I learnt a lot from her during my PhD; research-wise, Pat helped me a lot with improving my academic skills; supervisor-wise, she also demonstrated and built an excellent model of a good supervisor. I truly appreciate the opportunity to get into her lab; I am also grateful for her great effort and solid support throughout my PhD.

Written by Rita (Chun-Chia Chou), a PhD student in Pat Backwell’s Group in Biology. Rita is originally from Taiwan.