Dr Ana Leitão: Humans of BioSciences

Meet Dr Ana Leitão who completed her PhD in 2019 on the ecology and breeding biology of the Lovely Fairy-wren. Her research entailed months of field work spent in the wet tropics chasing birds and presents the first comprehensive study on this species. Now back in Portugal, Ana shares what she most loves about research, what she will do next, and reflects on how important human connections and friendships were during her PhD.

Ana portrait
What was your PhD focused on?

I completed my PhD in 2019 and was supervised by Professor Raoul Mulder and Dr Michelle Hall. My project was focused on the evolution of elaborate female signal traits. For that, I described and directly compared female and male behaviour and function of plumage colour and song in the Lovely Fairy-wren (Malurus amabilis). Among other findings, I showed that song and plumage colour form a true signal in female and male Lovely fairy-wrens, that song has a convergent function, but colouration has different functions in females and males. Besides contributing to an understanding of ornament evolution, this research provided the first comprehensive overview of the ecology and breeding biology of the Lovely Fairy-wren.

Lovely Wrens image
What do you love most about your research?

What I love about research in science is that you are constantly learning something new, just by being curious and posing questions to answer hypotheses, discussing with your peers or even just reading your colleagues’ work. I also love the non-monotonous element of this work, and all the processes that it entails: from thinking about the big questions, designing the experiment, collecting the data, to analysing and writing up the results. Specifically, my favourite part of my PhD was the fieldwork and all the months spent in the wet tropics chasing birds. You can follow my research on Twitter:@anavleitao, Instagram:@lovelywrenproject and Research Gate.

What does your future hold and what are you aiming to do next?

This has been a very unusual year with the COVID-19 situation. I am, like everyone else, trying to adapt to this new paradigm and planning my future to suit a world that may possibly be very different post the pandemic. Having recently finished my PhD, I am working on publishing the rest of my research. I am also working on collaborations, acquiring experience in teaching in higher education, applying for grants and looking for prospective work in research – if you know of anything, please let me know!

What was your favourite experience at the University of Melbourne and what did you like most about being in Australia?

My favourite aspect of being at the University was the human connections: the companionship of my colleagues, mentors and friends.
What I loved the most about Australia and my experience here is the culture and the ‘in your face’ nature and wildlife.

Do you have any advice for undergraduate students?

Focus on your studies, professional skills and your ‘dream’ job but remember that your personal development and mental health are just as important to your future.

Ana bird watching


'Humans of BioSciences' is a special new series to introduce the School of BioSciences' undergrad and postgrad students, our academics, professional staff and associates.