We are pleased to welcome Professor Victoria Braithwaite from the Department of Biology, Penn State University, as a new Editor of Proceedings B. Professor Braithwaite has served as an Associate Editor for the journal for the past 5 years and steps up to the Editor role in September 2017. Her area of expertise covers the field of animal behaviour, cognition and welfare. We recently asked Professor Braithwaite a few questions about her background, experience and her new role.
Tell us more about your field of research?
I am interested in the ecological and environmental drivers that shape adult animal behaviour. My group and I look at this in a number of different species across a range of contexts. For example, populations of fish that live in areas where predation pressure is high become much faster at making decisions compared to conspecifics living with little threat from predators. Populations of fish that live in structurally complex environments learn to use features and cues associated with that complexity to remember the position of key resources. When during development animals learn about salient features in their environment also interests me, and my group and I have investigated sensitive stages during development to investigate how these influence future behaviour.
Sometime ago, my group and I realised that understanding how behaviour develops in natural environments has useful applications with regard to the way captive populations are reared, particularly when animals are being reared for release into natural environments for conservation projects. Providing animals with an experience of change and variability in the captive environment promotes a degree of behavioural flexibility that is not found if animals are reared with little stimulation. This aspect of my work has also led to a growing interest in animal welfare research.
What prompted you to work in this field?
As an undergraduate, I studied for a degree in zoology, and found that my studies suddenly leapt to life when I took a course in animal behaviour. At that point I recognised that I had found an area that I wanted to focus on. After graduating, I was given an opportunity to spend a year developing a project investigating the way homing pigeons use visual landmarks to create maps. I spent my time trying to figure out how their multiple sensory systems were involved in their remarkable homing abilities. I was delighted as the year-long project morphed seamlessly into a D.Phil. and, not long after that, I found myself on a career path that has led me to where I am today. It’s been a fascinating journey that has allowed me to work with a wide range of animals, in some truly special places, and with some amazing people.
What has been the biggest influence on your career?
Without a doubt, the greatest influences on my career have come from interactions with two significant mentors. Professor Marian Dawkins, FRS, was my undergraduate tutor and then a member of my graduate research committee at the University of Oxford, and Professor Felicity Huntingford, FRSE, was my post-doctoral mentor at the University of Glasgow. Both, impressively accomplished researchers in their own right, were outstanding advisors who were generous with their time and ideas. In working closely with them, they taught me the value of initially taking time to watch an animal and see what it does before doing anything else. Then they helped me to realise the importance of a simple but effective experimental design that posed a question in a way that allows an animal to understand what you are asking. It sounds simple but too often I think we jump in and ask animals to do things that are either alien to them, or we are posing questions that they do not understand!
Why did you join the Proceedings B Editorial Board?
I have always held the journal in high regard. This made the choice to become an Associate Editor easy, because the role felt to be a way of giving something back to the journal. Being asked to take on more responsibility and become an Editor required a bit more reflection but, again, I am happy to be working for a scientific journal that reaches a broad audience and is committed to publishing excellent research papers.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to submit to Proceedings B?
First, ask yourself why you believe this particular result or study is a really significant contribution to the field. What is it that your study has found or demonstrated that allows us now to think about or understand the world in a different way? Take time to consider whether the results you have are a truly big step forward, or whether they would be a better fit in a more specialised journal.
If you are still not sure, try asking a couple of colleagues what they think about the result – do they get as excited about it as you do? If things still look positive and you decide to prepare a manuscript to submit, find a way to express the significance and novelty of your result in both the abstract and the opening paragraph of the article. You need to find a way to engage your audience with what makes your manuscript exciting from the get-go.
Proceedings B is looking to publish more high-quality research articles and reviews in the field of animal behaviour. If you have an idea for a review, we strongly encourage you to submit a proposal. Find out more about the submission process.