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What guppies tell us about evolution

Happy International Women's Day 2019, with wonderful female scientist Mijke Van Der Zee!


Population geneticist PhD student Mijke Van Der Zee uses a study system set up in Trinidad in the 1950s to look at how the genetic make-up, or genome, of guppies responds to environmental pressures, in this case predator abundance. Guppies, also known as million fish or rainbow fish, reproduce quickly and are highly locally abundant, making them an ideal study system.


Mijke's PhD title is: "Using whole genome sequences of newly introduced populations reveals rapid genetic convergent evolution in guppies" ....or in other words (just in case that passed as high over your head as it did ours) she investigates how the genome of guppies has changed since being moved from an environment with lots of predators to one with no predators.


In this episode of Planet PhD Mijke shares her unpredictable journey to and through her PhD. After doing a Masters degree in the UK, she worked as a cake waitress and a science technician in a school that subsequently burned down. She then very nearly became a teacher before finally deciding to apply to a PhD. For someone who loves to have their "feet in the field", Mijke was surprised to find how much she enjoyed coding, to the extent where she went to Gigi's G-themed party as a ggplot - but also tells us her strategies to keep herself motivated while working mainly at a desk.



Now a doctoral researcher at Exeter University, Mijke had an unexpected surprise when her supervisor, previously at the University of Sussex, announced she had been offered a position at Exeter. Mijke ended up moving city halfway through her PhD: we talk about the ups and downs of this situation, rare but not unheard of among doctorates. At the time of recording Mijke was just leaving us - seven months later, all is well in Exeter although she misses Brighton (of course). We hope to record an 'update' episode later in her PhD when we pay her a visit!



Mijke arrived from the Netherlands to the UK in 2012 to do a Masters in Applied Aquatic Biology at the University of Portsmouth. Before jumping fully into the academic world in 2016, she worked as a science technician in a secondary school. Mission PhD started in Brighton at the University of Sussex, and now she is a 3rd year PhD student at the University of Exeter.


In her free time she plays volleyball, goes for runs & hikes in the countryside, and loves to bake!



Follow Mijke on Twitter: mvdz28

Find her University profile: http://eprofile.exeter.ac.uk/mijkevanderzee/

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