Sophie Holles

Nearly the end! Thanks for such a good event everyone!! xxxx

Favourite Thing: I love finding out all about animals, to travel to exotic places to see them in their natural habitats, how their bodies work, how they act with each other, how we can protect them from the massive changes humans are making to the planet.



University of Bristol: 2009 – 2010 and 2011 – present


Currently doing my PhD, Masters, BSc Zoology, A-levels, GCSEs, Rescue diver

Work History:

Western Australia Marine Science Institute (lead scientist on a humpback whale monitoring project in the bush), Australian Institute of Marine Science (lab monkey), Author for biology AQA workbooks, also worked in a tequila bar and various pubs and restaurants in the past.

Current Job:

PhD researcher


University of Bristol

Me and my work

I play man-made noises (like boats and ships) to fish and sea slugs with underwater speakers to see how they react and whether they can cope with all the noise humans make underwater

We’ve just found out that sea hare’s penises fall off after they’ve had sex and they can grow new ones. One of the next experiments I want to try is to see whether I can scare sea hares with a sound and make their penises fall off before they have sex. Because if all the noise we’re making underwater might affect reproduction then it could have serious consequences for populations underwater.

My Typical Day

Get up in time to see the sun rising behind the mountain next to the research station, go out on a little aluminium boat to my field site in the lagoon, count fish breathing rates to find out whether they are stressed by the noise I play them, take some fish blood samples to measure stress hormones, cook dinner for the 12 people at the research station (if its my turn), then if its the end of the week relax with a drink from a coconut



What I'd do with the money

I have a one of a kind instrument for measuring underwater sound in the same way as a fish ear.. I want to take it on trips in ‘lab in a lorry’, ‘the Bristol festival of nature’ and to schools to demonstrate how sound works underwater and how fish and other animals hear

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Adventurous, energetic and passionate

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Not sure, maybe Fat Freddy’s Drop

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Microlighting across the Namib desert at sunrise and seeing zebras, warthogs, oryx, springbok etc

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

Happiness, success, love

What did you want to be after you left school?

I didn’t know! I just wanted to go to university and eventually become a doctor (ie do a PhD)

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Of course.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I got a commendation of excellence for my masters thesis for discovering that ship noise affects shoaling in fish and a new way to digitally edit sound to cancel out echoes with anti-sound!

Tell us a joke.

There’s two fish in a tank. One turns to the other and says ‘You man the guns, I’ll drive’

Other stuff

Work photos:

Sunrise in the research station, Moorea, French Polynesia myimage1

Heading out on the boat to the site.. getting our wetsuits on because it gets cold when you’re in the water for a long time, even with water as warm as 27 degrees celcius myimage2

We had to catch fish from anemones before we could use them in the experiment.. here you can see my lovely assistant about to catch some of the juvenile three-spot dascyllus we worked on (the little black fish, he did have a net which you can’t see in the picture) and he’s wearing a Christmas hat because we were out working on the 31st Dec myimage3

Dive masks also come in useful to stop you crying while chopping onions myimage4

I paddled in a kayak around these reefs to take sound recordings for a study on natural reef sound (snapping shrimps and calling fish).. then I climbed the mountain above so I could get an aerial photo of my study site. myimage6

This is me spearfishing for bait fish (mainly surgeonfish) for catching larger fish for an experiment about predation .. sometimes we catch something we can BBQ later myimage5

Its not all BBQs and beaches.. this is a 12 channel amplifier we built for an experiment on ship noise and larval Atlantic cod, at a fish farm in the West Highlands (Scotland), you can see the amp on the right, the workbench on the left and some tanks in the background myimage7

For my degree in zoology I did a project on monkey calls in the jungle in Indonesia.. which meant chasing monkeys round the forest for 10 hours a day for 5 weeks. The wind muffler on the microphone is actually called a ‘dead cat’ myimage8

Another part of my degree in zoology was a field course in South Africa.. me and two friends did a 3 day project on large mammals where we walked 14 km of survey lines across the grasslands. One of the best experiences was walking through a herd of giraffes, the scariest was walking past a rhino and being told to decide which thorny tree I should try and climb if it charged! myimage9

Before I started my degree I went and worked on some volunteer projects abroad.. in the Namib desert we rescued a dying elephant, who needed to have 24 hour care.. this is me looking after her with our dog Tsaurab in the middle of the night (between when we had to turn her over every two hours and change her drip) myimage10