Dr Andrew Katsis: Humans of BioSciences
Meet Dr Andrew Katsis, a behavioural ecologist who studies prenatal learning in songbirds. Andrew completed his undergraduate and Master’s degrees at the University of Melbourne in the Department of Zoology, and is now based in the BirdLab at Flinders University in Adelaide. Andrew credits his Master’s research for making him “fall in love with tiny songbirds’”, and is a strong advocate for fieldwork to help young researchers find out what they are most passionate about. Earlier this year, he achieved a major item on his bucket list when he spent two months observing Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos Islands. A special highlight from this fieldwork included a “quiet encounter with two American flamingos”.
What problem were you trying to solve with your Master’s research?
For my Master’s research at the University of Melbourne, I studied a small Australian songbird called the superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus). I spent months observing a wild fairy-wren population at Serendip Sanctuary, an hour’s drive south-west of Melbourne. Our team rose early each morning, and set up mist-nets to capture and colour-band all the birds in our population.
Fairy-wrens are very social birds and live in close-knit family groups. As they flit around their territory, foraging for insects and grubs, they talk to each other using simple vocalisations called contact calls. My project asked whether young fairy-wrens learn this call from their parents and whether offspring differ in how well they learn it.
This project was my first real taste of scientific research and, above all else, made me fall in love with tiny songbirds. Even today, whenever I see a fairy-wren hopping around the garden I have to stop and admire it for a few seconds.
What do you enjoy doing outside of science?
In addition to doing science myself, I am also a keen science communicator, and have dabbled in magazine editing, podcasting and radio. In 2017, a little unexpectedly, producers of the Netflix series Bill Nye Saves the World discovered me on Twitter and flew me to Los Angeles, California, to talk about zebra finches on the show. When I am not doing any of these things, I very much enjoy being outdoors—ideally, hiking in the middle of nowhere, with spectacular scenery and birds overhead.
Do you have any advice for undergraduate students?
If you’re considering doing postgrad research in the future, then don’t be afraid to reach out to researchers in your department—even if you’ve never met. Many of them, especially PhD students, are very happy to have extra volunteers during their fieldwork. This is a great way to make yourself known to future supervisors and to find out in advance which projects you’re most passionate about.
Find out more
Find Andrew Katsis on Twitter: @andrew_katsis
'Humans of BioSciences' is a special series to introduce the School of BioSciences' undergrad and postgrad students, our academics, professional staff and associates.