Shona Elliot-Kerr: Humans of BioSciences

Meet Shona Elliot-Kerr who is in her final year of a Master of Science (BioSciences) degree. Shona conducts research with the Quantitative and Applied Ecology Group (QAEco) and uses statistical modelling to predict the roadkill risk for different native mammals across Victoria. Shona’s passion for science and conservation have developed from her enduring curiosity and interest in the natural world.

Shona engaged in fieldwork

What do you do?

My research with QAEco uses statistical modelling to predict the roadkill risk for different native mammals across Victoria. Specifically, I am investigating how the choice of data for these models can affect the end predictions of risk. Understanding where and why roadkill is happening for different species ultimately helps us to make roads safer for all. I’ve recently submitted my last course assessment, and am now focusing on writing my thesis.

What do you love most about science?

I have always had a curious mind. Even as a kid, ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ were some of my favourite phrases. I love that science lets us deeply explore how the world functions. Through data collection, experimentation, and analysis, we can uncover hidden patterns that help explain the phenomena that we experience and observe. This understanding of the natural world and how it is rapidly changing as a result of human interference is what drives my passion for conservation.

How have you met the challenge of transitioning to online-delivered content and conducting your research at home?

Studying quantitative ecology means I spend a lot of time writing code on my computer, which I can fortunately still do from home. Because my study site is the whole of Victoria, I use online repositories to obtain species occurrence data which has been collected by field and citizen scientists across the entire state. Fieldwork is a very enjoyable and important part of our work which we can’t do right now. But, I am grateful for data sharing sites like the Atlas of Living Australia and the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas, which make my research possible.

I am also very lucky to be part of an extremely supportive research lab. Not only do we have daily “coffee catch ups” on zoom where you can drop in for a chat, but our Slack channels have never been busier! We have dedicated channels for sharing things like food creations, cute pet photos, and music recommendations, which really help sustain our social connection.

Shona in the garden

What do you enjoy doing outside of the School of BioSciences?

I love getting creative in the kitchen. Baking sourdough is an excellent way to break up a day working from home because it forces you to take small, periodic breaks from your computer to fold the dough.

Do you have any advice for undergraduate students?

Try as many practical-focused classes (such as experimental subjects and internships) as you can. They are a great way to both make connections with more experienced people in your field, and help you diversify your skills as a scientist. I met some of my closest friends doing experimental-based subjects during my undergraduate degree.

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

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