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The world outside academia

23 April 2020

Careers Outside Academia

For this lab meeting, I invited three former MeaseyLab members who have now left academia and gone into the wonderful world of work. Each left at a different level and has been employed in a different work sector. To prepare for the meeting, each was asked to think of skills that they had gained during their time in academia and how this has (or hasn’t) prepared them for the work that they do now.

I’ve chosen to produce a table to list their responses. I’ve also allowed them to edit what I’ve written here.


Alex Rebelo

Mohlamatsane Mokhatla

Ana Nunes

Left MeaseyLab

MSc 2016

PhD 2018

Post Doc 2017

Current employer: job title

Enviro Insight: junior specialist

SANParks: Scientist - Social Ecological Systems

IUCN: Programme Support Associate (Invasive Species)





Current tasks

Field work

Report writing

GIS work

Social ecological systems

Ecosystem services

Cultural ecosystem services

Amphibian monitoring Garden Route NP

Working on projects:

EU regulation on invasive species

Import regulations on soil

Humane ways of managing vertebrate species

Invasion impacts on pollinators

EICAT implementation





Skills gained in academia

Working in unfamiliar field sites in adverse conditions

People skills

Report writing


Report writing

Analytical skills

How to start on a new topic from scratch


GIS work

Data management

Data management



Correlative & Mechanistic modelling

Presenting data with graphs & statistics



Communication of scientific results to a mixed audience of stakeholders

Time management skills



Learning to learn


Key Insights

Here is a list of key insights that our team shared (together with some from Jonathan Bell - NCC). They are in no particular order, but each one probably deserves a lot more information. 

  • The importance of the networks that they had made during their times as academics. In addition, the importance of how to manage and grow a network.
  • Many jobs these days involve project work, and include generating the funding from donors as well as completing the project and writing the report. Post graduate degrees really help with learning how to start, manage, and complete projects.
  • Although papers and citations gained during academic life won’t help with some jobs, they allow flexibility in the job market (potentially to re-join academia). They also demonstrate your ability to write. More papers are likely to improve your chances and some jobs include writing research papers as part of the job.
  • Employers are interested in the experience and skills that you’ve acquired during your academic work. Instead of just listing papers you need to sell what you’ve done in cover letters and interviews:
    • What kind of experience do you have with invasive species?
    • Do you understand about management of invasive species?
    • Do you have good organisational skills?
    • Have you done fieldwork?
    • Have you managed students (particularly important as you might be required to manage personell in your new position)?
  • Regardless of your academic background, you should expect to enter into your job at quite a junior level or even as an intern, and then work your way up
  • Employers are looking for ‘emotional intelligence’ (the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you). They will expect you to be a good team member, work with different stakeholders and clients. Conflict management skills are important.
  • In South Africa, if you are going into a process specialist role (e.g. Environmental Assessment Practitioner)you should think of becoming registered with respective (EAPASA or SACNASP)
  • You might not need to wait for a job advert. Use your contacts and write to people who are employers
  • You might need to become ‘comfortable with feeling uncomfortable’: your work might be so different from what you’ve done before that you should and you should be able to adapt
  • There are expectations from employers that you will meet challenges that your employers place before you (and not shy away)
  • You might need to get used to different working cultures that are meeting focussed (even when you have meetings about having meetings)
  • The working culture might not be static, and could change with the replacement of a manager or director.
  • If you are employed by a governmental agency, it will be expected that you are accountable to your employers as well as the public that pays through their taxes
  • The position you are employed in will likely involve you constantly acquiring new skills, such that you feel like more of a student then when you were studying. This really adds to the interest in the working life, and allows you to meet new and unexpected challenges.
  • New subjects and other areas might be well outside your expertise, but can be just as rewarding once you rise to meet the challenges.
  • Jobs outside academia are especially challenging in working out how to apply the results of scientific studies.
  • Your employers might expect you to conceive your projects, as well as carrying them out.
  • You are expected to be an authority in your work, and interpret your results with reasonable confidence

It was a very illuminating session, and I think that there was a lot of interesting to and fro between current and former lab members. Although none of these former lab members were present together with current lab members, they are still part of the MeaseyLab network, and you can use them! The alumni pages have contact details of all former MeaseyLab members, and where they are working now (I’ll try to keep them up to date, but let me know if they aren’t). Also, don’t forget the the CIB has a far bigger network with hundreds of alumni. It’s worth asking me (Dave or Sarah) about past alumni if you are looking for someone in a particular organisation. Your link with the CIB is very valuable, and you should use it.

Thanks again to Alex, Mac & Ana for making this meeting so interesting and informative. 

Next week, we are going to follow this format again, but this time talk about how to stay in academia.

  Frogs  Lab  meetings

A very memorable and toady Cape Herp Club

08 April 2020

The Toad Team pull off a spectacular presentation for Cape Herp Club

In these times of uncertainty, there are opportunities to do things differently. Normally, the Cape Herp Club meets every other month in the lab of one of the host groups. This month, we couldn't meet as we are all confined to our homes to comply with the government emergency legislation to fight COVID-19.

As it was the MeaseyLab's turn to host the Cape Herp Club, we decided to have a whole bunch of talks about Guttural Toads, Sclerophrys gutturalis, and the work that the lab is currently engaged in. Because we weren't allowed to meet in person, we decided to do a video conference, and that allowed us more opportunities to get creative about the talks we could give.

Many blog readers will remember the visit of Carla & Adriana last year from Brazil (see blog entries here, here and here). You will also remember that last month, Max had to go back to Germany before finishing his experiment (see blog post here). We were able to invite them them all to participate in our presentation.

Interrogating an invasion: details on differences between native and invasive populations of Guttural Toads

Giovanni Vimercati (couldn't make it but sent a presentation from Switzerland)* - Insights from more invasions

James Baxter-Gilbert (in Stellenbosch) - Morphology and performance of native and invasive populations

Max Mühlenhaupt (in Berlin) - Breaching the gap: From egg to toad

Carla Madelaire (in Arizona) - Water seeking behaviour of native and invasive toads

Adriana Barsotti (couldn't make it but sent a presentation from Cyprus)* - Challenges of a novel range

Carla Wagener (in Bellville) - Shit don't lie

Sam Peta (in Stellenbosch) - Proposed work on dietary niche and trophic interactions

Natasha Kruger (in Mosel Bay) - Parasites of native and invasive populations

It was amazing to see more than 30 people join this Cape Herp Club meeting.

But because we didn't have to have people physically present, we could invite our collaborators from all over the world. 

In attendance were Guttural Toad collaborators:

Claudia Baider & Vincent Florens (Mauritius)

Morne du Plessis (Pretoria)

Fernando Ribiero Gomes (Sao Paulo)

Louis du Preez (Potchefstroom)

Of course, most people were alone in their houses, but a few were able to show us how (and how not) to do social distancing.

Laure's first publication

05 April 2020

After ~40 years in France African clawed frogs are adapted to the cold

In order to accurately model the potential distribution of expanding populations of ectothermic invasive species, we need accurate models that determine how they perform in different thermal environments. The model amphibian, the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) has had many studies on thermal preferences of laboratory bred populations that could be used in species distribution models. However, this would assume that laboratory bred animals have not adapted from the wild-type, or that introduced populations themselves have not undergone thermal adaptation.

A new study by Araspin et al (2020) used populations of clawed frogs from two sites in their native South Africa as well as from the invasive French population to test whether any adaptation had occurred in thermal performance in the ~40 years since their introduction. Surprisingly, French invasive frogs showed a significant rapid shift in their thermal dependence of locomotor performance, meaning that they perform better at colder temperatures than wild caught animals. 

The implications of this finding are that the population of invasive frogs currently undergoing expansion in France will be able to penetrate more temperate European climates. Hence distribution models that were made using the distribution of wild-caught animals will need to be recalculated in order to determine just how widespread this species may become.

Read more

Araspin, L., A. Serra Martinez, C. Wagener, J. Courant, V. Louppe, P. Padilla, J. Measey and A. Herrel (2020) Rapid shifts in the temperature dependence of locomotor performance in an invasive frog, Xenopus laevis, implications for conservation. Integrative and Comparative Biology   60(2):456–466 pdf

  Frogs  Lab  Xenopus

Keep productive during lockdown

03 April 2020

Making a schedule of work to do...

Lockdown has come to us all. At the time of writing, we (in South Africa) have just completed our first full week of lockdown due to the emerging Covid-19 pandemic. Almost everyone has returned home to self isolate. Some lab members are back with their families, others are in their accommodation in Stellenbosch. The university has closed its doors during this period, and all experiments and practical work has stopped. 

Whether we wanted it or not, we now have an opportunity to write up completed projects, or plan the work that we want to do. While the lockdown might come with many unwanted restrictions, it does allow all MeaseyLab members to concentrate on analysis and writing.

But how should we remain productive, or (for some of us) how do we even start getting into a productive cycle? 

Try to enjoy your lockdown period, and make it as productive as you can. Everyone has their own way of working, but if you are struggling here are some tips that I find useful:

Schedule your work & mix it up

There are some tasks that we have that are more fun than others, and it's nice to have something that you can look forward to. Thus, making a simple schedule for your work where you indicate what you are doing and when can really help.

  • Know when you are more productive, and plan accordingly
    • some of us work better first thing in the morning, and others in the evening. Get to know yourself and plan to do the difficult stuff when you're fresh - or warmed up!
  • Make a "To Do" list
    • this will help you know what some of the little tasks are as well as bigger blocks.
    • If you really only have one thing to do (e.g. write PhD proposal), then break this up into smaller workable chunks so that you can start ticking them off
    • don't underestimate the importance and satisfaction of ticking off items on a to do list. Put it up on your wall, use coloured pens. Anything that makes it more satisfying for you
  • Don't become a slave to any schedule that you make
    • when you are being really productive, don't stop just because your time is up. 
    • conversely, when you're failing on a task don't stay with it when its time is up. Move on and come back to it soon. Even when you aren't doing this task, your brain will continue working on the problem.
    • Some problems do much better after a nights sleep, so if something is really bugging you then distill it and read this summary before you go to bed. Let your brain work on it overnight and reflect on what you think in the morning. It's worth having a go!
  • Be aware of what eats into your time (e.g. social media!)
    • if you really need to do this, then put it into your schedule for a less productive time when you know that you'll be flagging. 
    • When it's not scheduled, keep it off your desktop and avoid having alerts on your phone
  • Be logical in what you choose to do when. 
    • Don't plan to write your results when you haven't analysed your data.
  • Include items that are non-work into your schedule: 
    • such as coffee/tea breaks, social media fixes or exercise slots, and communicate these with anyone that you are in lockdown with (especially if they are prone to interrupting your most productive periods).
    • and include little things like writing or updating your profile for this website or the CIB website. Part of remaining productive is achieving little things on your to do list, as well as the really big items.
  • Plan meetings with other lab members (on zoom, skype or whatsapp), and keep communicating with your advisor, even if it's just to check in. It does help to chat about what you are doing as it helps you to verbalise and forces you to put it into another perspective. 
  • Don't spend too much time in this scheduling - it could end up eating all your time!

Don't forget that there is information on writing elsewhere on this website: 

Meanwhile in Durban...

20 March 2020

Toad Olympics are over (not postponed), diet data collected and tadpoles have metamorphosed

Max had been hard at work on his experiment and has collected vast amounts of data. It has been a lot of work for Max. Let's remember where he came from, months ago, toads were laying eggs. Guttural toads were caught in their native range, and invasive toads (from Cape Town) were moved back up to their native Durban to breed.

In this common garden experiment, all of the toads were kept and bred in the same conditions. Max's interest was in the tadpoles, their time to development, performance on the way and their change into metamorphs.

So it's been quite a journey.


Sam has been flushing guts galore and building lots of traps for catching invertebrates to see what's available for the toads to eat.

Lastly, James has been making those toads run, jump and climb.

Above (right) you can see a toad that has succesfully climbed out of it's confinement. Below, a toad in an experiment to measure exploration behaviour dares to leave its hideout and venture around the arena.

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