Author: John Curry, BSc Psychology, Queen’s University Belfast

Project: Timing the introduction of fallow deer fawns to the social group: the role of fawn sex, maternal age & experience

Supervisor: Domhnall Jennings, School of Biological Sciences, Queen’s University Belfast & Greta Bocedi, School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen

Hi! I’m a psychology student studying at Queen’s University Belfast. As summer drew near I was starting to dread the return to a 9 to 5 working day in whatever shop would have me. However, when I saw the opportunity to work as a research intern and get paid doing so I knew I had to apply. I chose the project which seemed most relevant to my interest and experience. The title of the project was: “Timing the introduction of fallow deer fawns to the social group: the role of fawn sex, maternal age and experience”.

One of the main appeals of this project was the location. Smack in the middle of Dublin’s Phoenix Park. This meant spending my days in the great outdoors during some of the best weather I’ve ever seen. In Phoenix Park there is a large herd of wild fallow deer. My main task was to aid a PhD student with their data collection, and we worked closely together during my time with the project. I also had the opportunity to work alongside another PhD student and his intern which was great to have an insight into yet another fascinating project.

The PhD student I worked with was doing her research on maternal stress so we were mostly interested in the female deer and any fawns they had. When I first got to Phoenix Park there were no fawns out in the open with the heard but by the time I left, there could be 30-40 fawns in one group. We initially wanted to pair up as many fawns with their mothers as we could. Later in the project I was given more information about the research and was able to help with other observations as well.

My day-to-day experience varied during my time with the project. At the beginning I was trained to use a spotting scope and shown how to vary the zoom and focus according to my needs. My initial task was to observe interactions of mothers and their fawns. I would then record the tags of the deer in question and record the behaviour they were exhibiting. My role then expanded into noting observations associated with mothers who had given birth, mothers returning to the group alone, calling, swollen udders etc. Then I was shown how to use a Dictaphone to record 20 minute observations of mother-fawn pairs. Whilst sometimes this made me feel like David Attenborough, whenever the mother-fawn pair was in a group of over 100 deer it was very difficult to keep track.

I would travel to the park early in the morning, get my kit sorted and head out into the park. Dressed for adventure, I would scan the park for deer and begin observations. Often I was working in the park alongside the PhD students but other times I worked independently. I enjoyed this mix as it gave me good opportunity to ask questions and get guidance but also allowed me to crack on with the data collection myself.

Working with a PhD student was great fun and very interesting. It was able ask all the questions I wanted and they were always met with informed answers. As I had only finished Level 1 Psychology, it was very cool to collect data that would go on to be used for real research. I really enjoyed my experience in Phoenix Park and I hope for more opportunities like this.