Beyond Your Research Degree

Episode 8 - Dr. David Jacoby, Research Fellow at the Zoological Society of London

September 28, 2020

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about non-academic careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree!  In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks to Dr. David Jacoby, Research Fellow at the Zoological Society of London. You can find out more about David on his LinkedIn profile.


Music credit: Cheery Monday Kevin MacLeod ( 
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License 


Podcast transcript


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Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter, Doctoral College

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I'm Kelly Peece and welcome to this episode. Today I'm going to be talking to David Jacoby.

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David works as a research fellow in a university affiliated institution, so he's kind of bridging that gap between industry and academia.

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Hi, David. Can you introduce yourself? My name is Dr. David Jacoby.

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I'm a research fellow at the Institute of Zoology, which is part of the Zoological Society of London.

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I've been working there for roughly seven years now. I graduated from the University of Exeter with a research degree in 2012.

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My PhD was in animal behaviour and that was from the School of Psychology at the Streatham campus,

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and it focussed predominantly on the application of network analysis for understanding shark behaviour.

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So, David, can you tell me a little bit about your current role and what it involves as a research fellow?

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I have a growing research lab around the theme of network ecology and telemetry,

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and this focuses on my main research interests, which are predominately the ecology and conservation of shark species.

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So that is things like how they reside with inside and outside marine protected areas, the threats they face from commercial and illegal fisheries.

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But another component in my research is also various different animal tracking

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technologies and how we can use that to understand things about movement, ecology and behaviour.

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And finally, the third strand of my research is into animal social network analysis as well.

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So why animals aggregate predominately in the marine environment for my focus.

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What this means for population dynamics and how do we quantify social behaviour in fish at all.

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So this role really involves supervision of both PhD and masters students, as a research and pure research institute.

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We do some degree of teaching associated with some of the other London universities whose masters courses are affiliated to us.

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But it's predominantly my role is around data analysis. The writing of grant applications and papers, reviewing grant applications and papers,

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as well as a big component, and then everyday meetings with students and colleagues.

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For example, I sit on the Equality and Diversity Committee within the Institute of Zoology, and this is really about taking inward.

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Look at how we as an organisation represent the diversity in society and how we can improve diversity across academia in general.

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In addition to that, we have a lot of responsibilities around communication and outreach activities.

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So I spend quite a lot of time trying to present my work to people, be on the scientific community and whether that be at conferences,

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non-specific scientific conferences and events for the public evening symposia which we put on for public at the Zoological Society of London.

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And then extra curricular activities include things like editorial responsibilities.

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So I am I've been an assistant editor at the Journal of Fish Biology for the last six years.

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So that also takes up quite a bit of my time as well. So what's it like working in a pure research institute?

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Is it similar or different to conducting research in academia?

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And what's the what's your day to day work life like?

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I really enjoy working at ZSL or the Zoological Society of London.

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It's a pure research institute. And as an organisation, it is absolutely steeped in history.

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It's nearing its two hundredth anniversary. Charles Darwin was a former fellow of that as well.

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And Sir David Attenborough is the current patron. So the place is really inspirational in terms of some of the research that's come out of there.

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There's a real diversity of research, a diversity of methods and study systems as well.

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So you never really know what you're going to be discussing when you meet people in the tea room.

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There's so many different study systems from terrestrial animals to aquatic, from various tracking to genetics.

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So there's a real mixed bag of people working there. And that's what I like about the place.

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In many ways it's similar to university, but without the pressure perhaps to conduct quite so much teaching,

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we do contribute to master's courses from Imperial College, London, University College, London as well.

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King's Royal Vetinary College and a number of other institutions. So I can do as much or as little teaching as I want,

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but I experience the same pressure that you get at a university to bring in grant

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money to justify our position to publish regularly in high impact publications.

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I have an honorary position at UCL, which is one of our main collaborative organisations,

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and there's broad collaboration across all of the London and London groups and London universities.

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And this includes the London doctoral training programme from which we have a kind of annual cohort of these students as well available to us.

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My average day, I would say, is desk based predominantly, and it will include student meetings, some analysis, a bit of writing,

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quite a lot of internal meetings as well, and also external international collaborative meetings,

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which can run out of hours as well, depending on who is speaking to.

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Then on the flip side of that, I have regular fieldwork each year as well.

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So I have two main field sites currently up and running where we track sharks using acoustic telemetry.

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My main field site is in the British Indian Ocean territory, one of the largest marine protected areas in the world.

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And here, the groups tracking reef sharks to understand the role that the marine protected area has on trying to conserve these species,

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which are still facing large threats from illegal fishing activity.

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The second field site is in northern Lanzarote in the Canary Islands,

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and this is tracking critically endangered angel sharks, about which we know very little.

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So we're using technologies there to try to understand some of their ecology,

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some of their daily seasonal and annual variation and movements and distribution.

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And this usually involves being out on the water from the vessel based research for anywhere up to three weeks at a time, at least once a year.

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Sometimes there are more trips and I also attend both national and international conferences as well.

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So that's another component of my time. But that's a broad overview of what I tend to do on a day to day basis.

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So what skills and experiences from your research degree?

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Do you use specifically in your current role for key skills?

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My PhD, I would argue that I really relied on some of the project management experience I got during my PhD

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This included things like budgeting, time allocation, delegation of responsibilities and roles to research assistants and to students as well.

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But also the importance of reading and reading a lot. Reading around the subject, reading as broadly as possible.

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Things like practising presentations as well. I used to be terrified of giving presentations.

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The more I do, the easier I find it.

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So certainly practising that more and more was a skill that I began to acquire during my PhD, which is still really important today.

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Also, I would say a willingness to kind of see where a conversation or a train of thought can lead you as well.

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So I'm very fortunate at the moment in my role that I'm able to kind of explore different avenues of research.

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But one of the great things about a pure research institute is that you can have a conversation that can set you off on a whole new direction.

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It could be bring in whole new techniques, a whole new set of collaborators,

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and it can really set start your day or your week or your year off in a very exciting direction.

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And the only other thing I would say about what I learnt from my PhD was the importance of listening to people,

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taking onboard advice and learning the kind of better habits of people I admired,

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but also learning from bad habits of others and generally just trying to treat people in the way that I enjoyed being treated as a student myself.

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I learnt a lot from my supervisors and I learnt a lot from the people I interacted with.

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During my PhD and I've really made a conscious effort to try and take some of those good

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components and repeat them and pass them on to students that I now supervise as well.

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Are there any additional activities or extracurricular projects you would advise research

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degree students to get involved in to help make them more employable extracurricular activities?

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As I said, I. I have my editorial roles for various different journals.

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These have been extremely rewarding for me as I've learnt a lot about the peer review system and about research in general.

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It's meant I've had to interact with a lot of different researchers worldwide, both for requests for review,

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but also managing the comments as they come in and then dealing with the authors

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and and being the Go-Between between the authors and reviewers as well. That's been a really rewarding and interesting experience.

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So I would highly recommend if those opportunities come up. Taking those organising events is certainly a very useful thing to do.

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Again, this comes down to project management.

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And I helped organise a behaviour meeting while I was at Exeter during my PhD and that was a very useful thing to do.

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I currently run a twice monthly bio logging journal club where we discuss and critique new papers in the field of animal tracking.

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And this really, again, encourages people to read. It stimulates discussion amongst people of a like mind.

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It enables you to keep on top of the literature and learn new new things.

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But just just having to run that really forced me to to bring the group together

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and to meet on a regular basis and to discuss things on a regular basis as well.

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I would advise offering yourself out to help out on committees that, you know,

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really try and have an impact on the environment you work in and try and really be

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be an individual that pushes forward better practises within that institution,

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an organisation that can always be improvements made both at an institutional level, but also at a wider.

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Academic level as well. So I would say use your voice.

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Everyone, everyone has an important thing. Everyone has important things to say.

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And I would use that to try and improve the surroundings that you're in.

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And the field as a whole. And finally, what advice would you give to students who are thinking about applying for roles in pure research institutes?

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The advice that I always give isn't necessarily specific to a research institute at all, but it is useful, I think.

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And that is learn a skill, whether that be coding or learning a programming language.

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Genetic techniques and mathematical processes or all things from physics, anything like that.

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And bring that skill to the organisation that you want to work at or the study system that you want to work on, particularly in ecology and zoology.

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We are crying out for interdisciplinary research techniques, people to bring in research from other areas.

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I mean, science is becoming an increasingly interdisciplinary thing to do.

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So thinking outside the box is a must. And outside skills often pave the way for new, very novel research.

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And these can be be the difference in, you know, really progressing the field.

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So I would I would definitely recommend trying to learn a skill as opposed to being

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focussed on a particular system or a particular study organism or something like that.

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The second and final piece of advice I would also give is to be really persistent as well.

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There is no tried and tested method from going from your PhD  to the job you finally want to end up in.

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It took me many years to get to the point where I was being paid to lead my own research and often just a foot in the door is really important.

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So I actually took up a six month unpaid internship after my PhD, which wasn't wasn't ideal.

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And it's also not feasible for everyone as well. But it was really important.

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I was able to get a foot in the door at the Zoological Society of London.

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And since then I've stayed and I've slowly developed my own strands of research, my own research group over time.

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So people take different routes. There is no right way of getting from A to B.

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And it's important to remember that, but it will take a lot of persistence. So stick at it if you're keen and the rewards will come.

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Thank you so much, David, for taking the time to share your thoughts and your experience.

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And that's it for this episode. Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.


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