Member Spotlight: Lauren Tworkowski

Our member in the spotlight this week is Lauren Tworkowski from La Trobe University. Lauren won the SCBO Best Poster Award at the 2018 Victorian Biodiversity Conference – you can check out her poster here.

How did it feel to be selected as the recipient of the SCBO Best Poster award at the Victorian Biodiversity Conference?

It felt great of course! There was definitely stiff competition, both in terms of poster design and quality of research, so I was really surprised and humbled to have been chosen. The whole point of attending and presenting at these conferences is to effectively communicate your work and get feedback, so it is great to know that my poster was well received. Makes all those long hours of formatting worthwhile!

Why did you decide to pursue a career in conservation science and what sparked your interest in the field?

I worked in hospitality for 10 years and really enjoyed it at the time, but eventually realised I wanted to find a career path that would provide me with a greater sense of fulfilment. Something I knew I would continue to be passionate about, and that would continue to challenge me in the long term. I was lucky enough to grow up in beautiful Mt. Macedon and spent most of my childhood out and about, exploring the surrounding bush. For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by all things nature and am never happier than when I’m outside discovering new places, animals and plants. So when I decided to go back to uni as a mature age student, conservation science was an obvious choice for me. I definitely do not regret my customer service background though. It has taught me how to communicate with all sorts of people, a skill that definitely comes in handy daily in this industry!!

Oh, and it wouldn’t feel right to not mention Sir David Attenborough. He definitely kick started my love of the natural world as a kid. Thanks for infiltrating our lounge rooms Sir David. What an absolute legend!!

What project(s) are you currently working on and what has been the most interesting thing that you have learned to date?

I am mid-way through my PhD, investigating how climate change will impact the little penguins at Phillip Island in Victoria. The focus so far has been on developing a non-invasive method of measuring stress in little penguins using in situ field respirometry. This method is now being used to determine the energetic costs associated with thermoregulation in different burrow types, and at sensitive times such as incubation and moult. Moult especially is a critical period for little penguins, as they fast for up to 17 days while their new feathers come through. Until this process is complete, penguins are constrained to land during some of the hotter months of the year.  Moult is already extremely costly energy wise, so the additional energy required to maintain thermal homeostasis can push birds over the edge, leading to hyperthermia, and even death if exposure is prolonged. Given current predictions, it is important that we determine the thermoregulatory thresholds of little penguins, and gain a better understanding the capacity of this species to cope with future climate scenarios.

In terms of the most interesting thing I’ve learned to date, it’s a bit early to report my study findings unfortunately. We had a few speed bumps getting our equipment working properly in my first field season, so I am busy collecting data right now. I am very excited to see the results and will hopefully have much to share soon.

Tell me what you get up to when you’re not chasing penguins on Phillip Island?

It is field season for me at the moment so that is pretty much all I do!! Any spare time I have is spent planning my next penguin chasing adventure or scrubbing penguin poo out of my clothes…. For such a small bird you would be surprised at the volume and power of their cloacal projectiles.

Where do you see yourself going next? What’s your dream job?

Well, as much as I am enjoying my time with the penguins, I would love to get this PhD finished sometime in the next two years! I really just need to focus on that rather than thinking too far ahead. I would definitely like to get some travel in before committing to the next big thing, unless of course travel could be part of the next big thing!!

There is no one specific job that I am aiming for, so in the present I am happy networking and gaining as many skills as possible. I do not want to be so focussed in one direction that I miss out on all the shiny opportunities in my periphery. Who knows what could be around the corner?!