My research: evaluating stress for coastal ecosystems 

Andria Ostrowski, PhD student in marine ecology from the Griffith University School of Environment and Science, is the finalist at the 2022 Griffith University Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition. 3MT is an academic competition that challenges PhD candidates to describe their research in a language that can be understood by a non-specialist audience, within just three minutes. Andria presented her research on multiple stressor effects in the environment, which would ultimately provide information for the development of effective conservation and management strategies to mitigate stressor impacts. We asked Andria about her research and future aspirations.

Tell us a little about your research and the impact that you hope it will make? 

For my PhD, I am evaluating human impacts to coastal wetland ecosystems. Coastal wetlands are under enormous pressure from multiple stressors (e.g., pollutants, physical disturbance, increasing global temperatures) that are introduced to the environment due to human-related activities. Stressors often co-occur, meaning ecosystems can be simultaneously affected by two or more stressors, which makes predicting cumulative effects to the environment challenging. Additionally, costal ecosystems are incredibly dynamic. As environmental conditions constantly change over time, the intensity and presence of stressors are also likely to change. However, current research efforts focus on evaluating stressor impacts under highly controlled, static (constant) conditions, often ignoring dynamic environmental changes. I am exploring how variation in stressor intensity (fluctuations) and synchronicity (timing of fluctuations) can affect biological responses to stressors relative to static conditions. My results will have implications for how we design stressor experiments in the future, and how experimental outcomes are used to predict effects on ecosystems. I hope this research will enhance our understanding of multiple stressor effects in the environment, and ultimately provide information for the development of effective conservation and management strategies to mitigate stressor impacts. 

Do you have any aspirations you’d like to share about your research journey, or plans after your study? 

I am incredibly passionate about protecting marine ecosystems and communicating to others the importance of conserving these habitats. I am interested in conducting research that will be applicable to the management and conservation of marine ecosystems. Following completion of my PhD, I plan to pursue a career in government research where I can continue to evaluate human impacts to the marine environment and provide information to aid in the development of effective monitoring and management strategies to mitigate adverse effects.  

Why did you choose Griffith for your research degree?  

“I always wanted to pursue a PhD in marine ecology, and Griffith has a fantastic group of researchers in this discipline.”

My supervisors, Professor Rod Connolly and Dr Michael Sievers, are impactful scientists and supportive mentors, and are highly regarded in their respective research areas. I wanted to work with and learn from them, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. 

How did you go about connecting with a potential supervisor when you first considered research study? 

I came across an advertisement for a position within my current lab group, which piqued my interest. Upon looking into the research group further and better understanding their goals and initiatives, I decided to contact researchers addressing ecological questions in which I shared an interest. We corresponded via email and Zoom to discuss the potential of me pursuing a PhD at Griffith. 

Have you taken part in any professional development activities during your candidature? If so, can you tell me about your experience?  

I am a laboratory demonstrator for some undergraduate courses at Griffith. This experience gave me the skills and confidence to effectively instruct students and assist them with developing fundamental laboratory skills essential for a future in scientific research. Additionally, I supervised an intern who assisted me with a laboratory experiment as part of my PhD. I learned how to communicate project goals and needs, and trained an individual across a variety of laboratory techniques, all of which sharpened my skills in project management and helped prepare me to effectively lead a research team in the future. I also plan to complete a government internship so I can expand my network and gain additional skills necessary for a successful career in scientific research. 

What has been your most positive experience at Griffith so far?  

“I am part of a supportive and highly collaborative research group at Griffith that includes undergraduate students to professors, and everyone in-between. I can discuss, learn from, and share ideas with individuals from a variety of research backgrounds in a positive and constructive environment.”

I believe this has given me a well-rounded candidature experience and connection to a fantastic network that I will continue to work with on future research endeavours throughout my career. 

Watch Andria’s 3MT competition video at the link below:

If you’re interested in research that makes a difference, we’d love you to join our community. We offer a broad range of higher degree research supervisors and support to assist you with your chosen research project. 

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