From scholarship holder to researcher

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Is there any nicer way to be woken up in the morning than by the dawn chorus? Birdsong can be heard even in major cities – in parks with plenty of trees, for instance, or in green garden courtyards. The twittering of birds is audible even in the midst of all the noise and confusion of a big city.

The biologist Sam Hardman with a canary

Sam Hardman knows why this is so: “Birds are able to adjust the volume of their song to volume levels in the local environment. The louder it is in a city, the louder the birds will twitter”, is one of the findings of his research work. The 29-year-old biologist from the British city of Leicester studied the influence of urbanisation on birdsong in the city for his PhD. After graduating with a BSc from the University of Derbyin England, he completed an MSc at the UK’s University of Durham before signing up to do a PhD at Aberystwyth University in Wales. “What I was particularly interested in was finding out how quickly birds in big cities adapt their song to a higher ambient noise level”, explains Sam.

Researching at the highest level

The young researcher has carried out some of his most important experiments in Germany. In 2015 he successfully applied to the German Academic Exchange Service(DAAD) for a “Research Grant for Doctoral Candidates”. This allowed him to spend a year conducting research at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Ornithology in the small southern German town of Seewiesen. At the MPI he concentrated on the song of canaries. He used special measuring instruments to study how canaries in the institute’s cages responded to changes in ambient noise levels. “The MPI for Ornithology is the best possible place for pursuing research in my field”, Sam enthuses. “There is hardly another laboratory in the world that can match the MPI’s level of equipment.”

Scholarship ends in job offer

Another reason why Sam’s year in Seewiesen was so fruitful was that he worked next door to his supervisor and was part of a fairly small team with just three other researchers. “Everyone helps each other and the research atmosphere is really great”, says Sam. And the MPI in Seewiesen also values the work done by the biologist: from October 2016, once he has completed his PhD, he will have a job there as a researcher. “I am very much looking forward to returning to the MPI for Ornithology. Although the subject of my research is much the same, I will be conducting different experiments.”

A place in which to feel at home

He will not find it particularly difficult to get used to life in Seewiesen again. “During my scholarship year I met plenty of nice people with whom I am still in contact, and I look forward very much to seeing them again.” He also likes the region a lot: Seewiesen is a small town, surrounded by beautiful countryside and some wonderful lakes. It is only a good 30 kilometres to Munich, so Sam can quickly be in the big city if he feels like it. Even the German language poses no great challenge for him. “In the lab we often speak English. Most people in Munich also speak English, but I like it when I have the chance to talk to people in German.” He took German lessons in Wales before embarking on his scholarship year. In actual fact it makes little difference whether he speaks German or English in his daily research work – the birds speak a different language in any case.


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