What makes a good mother?

Zoe Gough from the BBC got in touch with me to ask what makes a marvellous mother in the animal kingdom, as part of an article about the latest beautiful installment of “Life Story”. Click the picture to read what I said!

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Who’s awesome? YOU’RE AWESOME

So, this is happening…

After 3 months of moving onto new things and having a distant battle of wits with examiners way, way, WAAAAY in the future – it’s finally here! Reading through my thesis again after a three month break, I’m again struck by how immensely lucky I’ve been to work alongside some amazing people, from whom I’ve learned huge amounts. My thesis reads like the story of my professional friendships and relationships – for example, I never would have done Chapter 6, my comparative analysis, had I not overlapped in LARG with Dieter Lukas, comparative analysis king! Likewise, my Chapter 5 would never have developed into the exciting multivariate analysis it did without happening to chat stats with Katie McGhee, my kickass new office mate.

Of all the parts of my thesis, I most enjoyed writing my acknowledgements section, because it allowed me to share my excitement and joy at having made all these wonderful people a part of something I created. Now that I’m taking this final step to becoming Dr MacLeod, I’m more grateful than ever to all the people who helped me out, and made this happen. It kinda sucks that most people never get to read thesis acknowledgements even if their names are all over it, so I want to take this pukey, cheesey chance to say:

… so that everyone knows it!

My thanks must first go to Tim Clutton-Brock, whose faith in me from the very beginning got me to Cambridge, and has since allowed me to pursue my own ideas with a freedom and independence that has been an immense luxury and privilege. Working with someone as enthusiastic and full of questions and ideas has been the best start to an academic career that I could imagine. The things I’ve learned from him about science, doing science, and writing science, could fill this page (and probably the length of this dissertation).

Life in the Large Animal Research Group has been stimulating, instructive, and both a great pleasure and a period of immense personal and professional growth. The value of the help, advice, and time given to me in the early days by my officemates Andrew Bateman, Rafael Mares, and Peter Santema, has only increased over time, as has my gratefulness. Thanks also for all the dating tips, Peruvian YouTube clips, trips to the Cambridge Blue, and laughs. It’s all about T12a. The LARG postdocs have also been an invaluable network of support: thanks, Dieter Lukas, Alecia Carter, Elise Huchard, Ben Dantzer, Markus Zoettl, and Arpat Ozgul. Particular thanks to Sinead English and Stuart Sharp for putting in a lot of effort and time to get and keep me on track in my first year, and beyond. I am also hugely grateful to Penny Roth for logistical (and other) support, patient translations and keeping us all organised.

The data used in this thesis exist because of the year-round dedication of the Kalahari Meerkat Project team, both in the field, and at Cambridge, Zurich, and Edinburgh. Thanks, as ever, to Marta Manser, Johanna Nielsen, and all staff, volunteers and students who have contributed to the long-term database. Special thanks to the people out there who keep things running smoothly and who have, other the years, provided data, guidance, and impressive management: Jamie Samson, Nate Thavarajah, Lewis Howell, Lyndsey Marris, and Sky Bishoff-Matson. In particular, thank you to Dave & Nanine Gaynor, who were a source of wisdom, help, and not least companionship during my final field season. Alta Kooper as a surrogate grandmother made field seasons vastly more enjoyable, and me fatter. A number of volunteers helped me out with the data collection for Chapter 4 (Adeline Fleetwood-Wilson, Ludy Stoddart, Ben Terrington, Jenny Lewis, Devica Ranade, Esmeralda Quiros-Guererro, and Nanine Gaynor), for which I am hugely grateful.

Back in Cambridge I have had the support of my superb advisors Nick Davies and Claire Spottiswoode, who have been generous with time, advice, and kindness throughout. The Behavioural Ecology group has also been a source of excellent ideas, stimulating tea time conversation, and friendship. Thanks particularly to Marjorie Sorensen, Amy Backhouse, Katie McGhee, Matthew Schrader, Rose Thorogood, Nick Horrocks, Carmen Panayi, Gabriel Jamie, Mike Finnie, and Tom Flower. Also to Martin Stevens, who served as my advisor in my first year.

On the logistical side, thanks go to two women who have filled the Graduate Administrator role with overwhelming efficiency and patience: Linda Wheatley and Alice Jago. The rest of the admin staff in the department is equally wonderful, and have also been incredibly helpful. At Clare College, Maureen Dawson has kept me housed, and Lesley Lambert and Jenny Colling in the Tutorial Office have provided support with funding, pocket money jobs, and travel grants.

Dr Jeff Graves and Professor Peter Slater from the University of St Andrews have continued to warmly support their over-eager undergraduate mentee, which has been a great source of encouragement, now over many years. Dr Athol McLachlan has provided me on many occasions with inspiration and an enthusiastic scientific ear back home on Mull. I owe these three wonderful scientists and friends a huge debt of gratitude for pointing me in the right direction, especially during the uncertain period of pre-PhD applications.

Personal support from a huge array of friends and family too many to name has been invaluable throughout my PhD experience. There are barely thanks enough for Ben Jarrett, who has read every word, and dealt with every crisis with patience, humour, and love. Without him, the last year and a half would have been very dull, and this dissertation would have been unimaginable. This is as much a labour of his love as it has been mine. Thanks also to the Jarrett family, who have provided a home, and family, away from home. Likewise my wonderful godfather(s), Andrew and Patrick, who have been there for every step. My grandparents, Nan and Eddie van der Vlies, are responsible for my obsession with South African creatures and landscapes, and have valiantly put up with my comings and goings, my dusty field gear, and growing collection of skulls in their spare bedroom. Lastly, I dedicate this to my wonderful parents, Marti and Alasdair; and my sisters, Catriona and Annabel. Their constant support and encouragement have allowed me to reach as high as they taught me to.