About Dr Smith
Born into an urban jungle on the 12th of July 1983, I spent the first 18 years of my life in West Bromwich in the Midlands, UK. I lived for holidays and days out to the seaside spending hours in the sea and investigating rock pools…
By the time I moved to Plymouth, UK in September 2001 to embark on my Bachelor of Science Degree in Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology (despite the slightly unusual combination of A’ Levels I had taken – Biology, Geography, Art and General Studies) it was fair to say that my experience of sharks was limited to face squashing encounters against reinforced glass tanks at various aquariums across the UK.
As it happened, late 2001 turned out to be an advantageous time to get into the field of Marine Biology. The phenomenal television series The Blue Planet aired around the same time I began my degree and a heightened fascination of the oceans ensued.
During my 3 years spent at Plymouth my fascination with sharks and Marine Biology as a whole took off, thanks to field trips in fantastic locations, notably Langebaan, South Africa, as well as specific projects which allowed me to indulge purely in the shark realm.
I graduated from Plymouth University in 2004 with a 1st Class BSc Honours in Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology, with an idea that maybe I would do a masters (MSc) degree but no-way would I do a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Naturally I did the opposite and took a year out to go travelling, proclaiming I would do a PhD if it was shark related, and so it was that while propped at a hostel bar in Sydney, Australia, I signed on the dotted line and accepted my PhD position in shark research here in Aberdeen, UK.
In September 2008 I completed my PhD thesis entitled “Behavioural and Neural Correlates of Hydrostatic Pressure Sensing in Sharks”, my viva (oral examination) was held in November 2008 and I was subsequently awarded my doctorate in Marine Biology.
Following on from my doctorate in 2008, I accepted a position working as a senior research scientist for a large pharmaceutical company (Pfizer), where I was primarily involved in researching the shark immune system, an interesting and challenging subject which was however primarily laboratory based. A situation which led to my decision to spend 3 months out in South East Asia doing volunteer work for the Thresher Shark Research & Conservation Project and further shark diving in Palau. Being back in the water with sharks on a daily basis, fed my enthusiasm to pursue a more hands on research approach with conservation as a primary factor. A decision which resulted in my choosing to leave Pfizer in 2011.
In October 2011 I began working at Macduff Marine Aquarium where my role included: fish husbandry, public presentations and SCUBA diving. My position allowed me to pioneer the first scientific research setup at the aquarium, where I was able to undertake aquaria based elasmobranch research on electroreception, with species conservation as the driving force behind the project.
The results of this were published in the Journal of Ocean and Coastal Management; the link to the paper can be viewed in the articles section of this website.
Alongside my work at the Aquarium I also undertook a marine consultancy role for the Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network; this involved advising, developing and writing proposals and reports in support of a number of inshore fisheries projects.
This was a valuable an interesting role, providing an insight into our UK fisheries. At the same time as both the aquarium and consultancy positions I was slowly working on a plan to develop my own SCUBA diving company.
Although I first learned to dive at 18, it has only been in more recent years that I have really begun to embrace it. For me diving is now inextricably linked to being a marine biologist; I believe that observing animals in their own environment increases your learning, understanding and of course enjoyment of them! So in December 2012 I completed my DiveMaster course and in May 2013 I qualified as a PADI Speciality Instructor.
In June 2014 I became the aquarist at Macduff Marine Aquarium a role which allowed me to further my knowledge and experience in aquatic husbandry and Life Support Systems whilst continuing collaborative elasmobranch research projects. Alongside this I continued my diving business and became an Apeks atx40 regulator technician.
At the start of 2016 I began writing shark related blogs for The Guardian Science Online, and I am particularly grateful to the science editor at the guardian for giving me this opportunity. The online blogs are a fantastic platform to reach out to people and explain shark biology, conservation, tourism etc to a wide audience.
At the end of 2016 I decided to gain an understanding in licensing, policy and legislation within Scottish waters by accepting a job with Marine Scotland. My research into elasmobranchs is continuing alongside this, as well as some exciting work with octopus! I also have some dive trips and film making opportunities on the horizon, which I cannot wait to get stuck into!