MSc Graduate in Focus: Sarah Nelms

This year we are launching a new MSc in Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation and applications are open now for 2020 start. We are looking back on some of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine vertebrate ecology and conservation around the world since studying with us.

Today we meet Sarah Nelms, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2014) and now a Post Doctoral Research Associate with the University of Exeter!

Sarah Nelms in Svalbard during her PhD Credit: Rachel Coppock

Hi Sarah! First off, why don’t you tell us what you are up to now and how you got there?

After completing my MSc I immediately began a graduate role with my master’s thesis supervisor which then led to me getting a PhD scholarship at Plymouth Marine Lab and University of Exeter. Upon completing my PhD earlier this year, I was offered a postdoc position back the UoE Penryn campus.


It’s lovely to have you back with us! What do you enjoy most about studying and working with us at the University of Exeter Cornwall Campus?

I loved everything about studying in Cornwall! The campus is beautiful and Falmouth and the surrounding areas are friendly and relaxed. The beaches and countryside are fantastic for an outdoorsy person like myself. The department is very welcoming and I felt like a member of a community that celebrates the achievements of staff and students alike.

The small and friendly campus is what makes UoE Penryn so special. It’s easy to meet people and connect and there are plenty of spots around campus to inspire you.

A Microplastics Survey, Credit: Emily Duncan

How did the MSc help you in your career, and do you have any advice for students looking to pursue a similar career?

One of the most important things I gained during the MSc was confidence. The support I received was hugely influential in helping me realise my potential as a scientist and I thrived in that environmentThe network of friends and peers I was able to build has also benefitted me since finishing my course. 

Additionally, the practical skills I learnt during the MSc, such as science communication, statistical analysis, time-management, were essential during my PhD.

I’d advise anyone looking to follow a career in academia to gain as much practical experience as possible and try lots of things so you can make an informed decision about what direction you want to head in.

Finally, Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of applying to any of our programmes at the University of Exeter?

Work really hard but take quality time off, meet lots of people, be organized and enjoy it!

You won’t regret it! 

Thanks Sarah!

Analysing seal scat for microplastics

If you want to find out more about any of our suite of #ExeterMarine Masters and Undergraduate courses use the links below!

Scientists at Sea Podcast – Microplastics and Sharks with Kristian Parton

Show Notes – Mircoplastics and Sharks with Kristian Parton


Of all the pollutants impacting the environment, plastics are perhaps among the most talked about and campaigned against in recent years. We’ve had members of Sail Against Plastic on the podcast before to discuss the presence of plastics in some of the most remote areas of ocean, but in this episode we take a look into how some plastics penetrate further – the invasion of food web ecology by microplastics.



Kristian Parton 

As an undergraduate with the University of Exeter, Kristian developed a strong interest in

marine conservation, specifically elasmobranch (shark and ray) ecology and biology. After being involved in several shark conservation projects around the world, from Mozambique to the Philippines, Kristian went on to start his current research as a Master by Research post-graduate investigating plastic ingestion in several North-East Atlantic shark species; Tope, Dogfish, Smooth-hound, Bull huss and Spurdog. The project aims to investigate whether diet and foraging behaviour has an influence on the consumption of micro plastic, and its accumulation within the digestive tracts of these species.



Is it a dog? Is it a fish? No, it’s a shark…

Kristian’s research has a broad focus on several small to moderate shark species found in the waters of the UK and North-East Atlantic, most of which are unknown to the wider public – all too often over-shadowed by larger, more cinematic species. The most common species that Kristian works with is the Lesser Spotted Dogfish…or the Small Spotted Catshark…or some may say the Murgey (Scyliorhinus canicula). Whatever you wish to call it, this species exhibit beautiful spotted patterns on a pale body, and are a delight to see in the wild for those lucky enough to spot them among the kelp beds. Though regularly caught in numerous trawl and gill net fisheries, they are not often eaten among Cornwall, though are put to use as bait while Kristian claims a few from local fishermen for science. The exact status of their stocks is unknown though they are thought to be fairly numerous and common. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many of the other sharks that Kristian samples.

For more information on the fisheries of S. caniculla, and other shark and/or marine species click here.



Fake Plastic Seas 

With so much plastic floating around, there is no surprise that it finds its way into the food webs of marine ecosystems. Our news feeds are battered by reports of stranded marine animals whose stomachs are littered with plastics, clips of animals mistaking plastic bags for their primary food sources, and new studies quantifying the presence of micro-plastics in almost all areas of nature. The problem is more than just full bellies of unnatural content, which in of itself is a great concern. Studies have shown that plastics may contain chemical traces that can disrupt systems by which organisms regulate and produce hormones, leading to further and exacerbated biological implications.

To find out more, have a listen to the episode.



If you wish to keep up to date with Kris’s research, give his ever lively twitter a follow @Kjparton

If you want to learn more about LAMAVE – the organisation with which Kristian helped with whale shark research in the Philippines – you can read more here:

You can also view Kristian’s award-winning film here: The Southern Continent: A Journey to Antarctica



Hosted by Ethan Wrigglesworth

Episode and show notes produced by Ben Toulson and Ethan Wrigglesworth

Check out other episodes of the podcast here.

You can subscribe on most podcast apps, if you’re feeling kind please leave us a review!

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

Scientists at Sea Podcast – ICEBERGS with Dr. Alejandro Roman Gonzalez

Show Notes – ICEBERGS

In this episode Ethan and Ben talk to Dr. Alejandro Roman Gonzalez about ICEBERGS, a research voyage aboard the RRS James Clark Ross to the West Antarctic Peninsula. Alejandro is part of a team of scientists, technicians and crew that are collecting data to help understand how marine life in this region is responding and adapting to climate change.



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Take a look some of Alejandro’s stunning images from the first expedition. You can see these, and more on his photoblog.



At the time of writing, they are currently mid-voyage on their second of three annual expeditions. Luckily for us, this means there’s already plenty to look at from the first expedition in the winter of 2017/18. Below we have linked articles from the official ICEBERGS blog, be sure to check back there for more in the future!



Some of the key locations for the voyage.



Some background on ICEBERGS and the West Antarctic Peninsula.


Crossing the Drake Passage

Recounting the voyage across one of the roughest seas on Earth.





Sunset over the pancake ice at Marguerite Bay.

Sea ice!

Something the team had to contend with on a regular basis.

Borgen Bay

An update from a stunning location.


Read about some of the techniques employed by the team in the following articles:

Mud, mud, glorious mud!


Grabbing for mud

Antarctic Plankton Pigments




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Some more of Alejandro’s fantastic photographs from the 2017/18 expedition. You can see these, and more on his photoblog.



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Underwater photographs from the 2017-18 voyage.



About our guest: Dr. Alejandro Roman Gonzalez 

Alejandro is a Research at the University of Exeter, his research focuses on the use of Antarctic coastal mollusc bivalves as recorders of climate variability in marine ecosystems, otherwise known as Sclerochronology (you might remember Paul Butler talking about this in a previous episode). Alongside his academic work, Alejandro is also a talented landscape and nature photography (which is evident as he’s provided all the fantastic  photos for these show notes). Be sure to check out his photoblog.




Useful Links

You can take a virtual tour of the RRS James Clark Ross here

Find out about the British Antarctic Survey here.

You can follow the ICEBERGS team on twitter – @ICEBERGS_JCR.

Take a look at Alejandro’s photoblog here.

Find the latest ICEBERGS blog here.



Hosted by Ethan Wrigglesworth

Episode and show notes produced by Ben Toulson and Ethan Wrigglesworth

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!