Monday, 15 October 2012

Dinos at the Bristol Zoo

Until November, the Bristol Zoo has one of those travelling dinosaur exhibition, featuring a number of animatronic dinosaurs spread throughout the zoo. Seeing as I work(ed) at an educational park in Canada that features over 40 animatronic and mostly life-size dinosaurs, I was of course interested in what the zoo had to offer (shameless plug for Jurassic Forest of course). Here's a short review of what I saw at the Bristol Dino Zoo.

Ok so I may be slightly biased by the fact that I have a lot riding on the success of Jurassic Forest in Canada, but I have to say, these dinosaurs are quite unimpressive compared to what I'm used to. First of all, most of them are not even close to life-size, which makes them kind of sad. The animatronics were pretty bad as well. At Jurassic Forest, the animatronics run on motion sensors and cycles, so when the sensor is triggered, they will go through their cycle of movement, then a cool-down period required to keep them from overheating. The dinos at the Bristol zoo seem to go off constantly, which although is really neat, means that the movements are pretty bad. They are quite slow and restricted, presumably to prevent overheating. Here is a video of the Amargasaurus and baby to get an idea.
Another thing that I found very interesting is the noises. I have no idea who decided on the noises for these dinosaurs, but man, some of them are bad. The Coelophysis sounded kind of like someone was shooting something, and I can't even begin to explain the noise of Edmontosaurus. One description given by my friend Davide, who came with me to check out the dinos, was that it sounded vaguely like a rubber ducky. Unfortunately the video has a lot of background noise, so I won't post it here. I will however post a picture of the Edmontosaurus, which made me want to cry a bit.

In general, the the information about each dinosaur was pretty good, even if the actual reconstructions weren't. For example, they had a Dilophosaurus that spat water ("venom"), but if you actually read the sign, it stated that there was no evidence that it did that, and that it was made up for the movies. Even though having a dino do that gives the wrong impression, thumbs up for accurate signage! 

In general, I would say the worst dinosaur was the Brachiosaurus. I have no idea what they were trying to do to it, but it just looked funny. I don't know what I would say is the best. The T. rex wasn't too bad, but he was very fat, and the Ornithomimus wasn't bad (so I've been told, I really know little about ornithomimds). All-in-all, it was good fun, even if it was mostly laughing at the reconstructions. Here's a few pictures of the dinos they had. 
Fat T. rex
Dilophosaurus - I still can't figure out what is up with his giant hands
Triceratops actually wasn't too bad
Baryonyx also did this weird spraying thing. Not sure what that was all about
And of course I did see some actual animals. My favourite would definitely be the seals. I could watch seals for hours! Monkeys of course are always fun to watch. I really wanted to see the pygmy hippos and the river otters (I love them), but couldn't actually see them in their pens. I also got to see a capybara for the first time, which was pretty awesome, as well as a huuuuge fruit bat!
Meerkats are always cool
Sleeping capybara!
Family dispute between the fur seals

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Funding: the bane of my existence

So it's now been just over a month since I have handed in my MSc thesis. I decided that I would put off starting my PhD for a few months while I apply for funding, and go home to Canada for a few months. As I have discovered, being an international student in the UK is very difficult when it comes to funding. For example, at the University of Bristol, there is one international studentship given out each year for the whole faculty of science. Basically what I've been told is that Earth Sciences will never get it, because we can't win Nobel prizes in general. So frustrating! So for funding, I have to look outside of the university.

Now from what I can tell, I'm pretty lucky because there are a number of Canadian funding sources that will fund you even if you're outside of Canada. And when I say a number, I really mean around 5. The big one of course is NSERC, the big government funding body. I just finished up my application for it, and although there was a lot to do, it's at least fairly straight forward. Then there are things like the Canadian Federation of University Women, that offer lots of scholarships, and it's very complicated to apply (like 7 copies of everything, 3 copies of reference letters, I don't even want to know how much paper this will be). Oh ya, then there's the O'Brien Foundation. They are just great. And by that, I mean they suck. Their website says that their grants are "primarily" for residents of New Brunswick. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but "primarily" means that sometimes they make exceptions, right? Well apparently not. I sent in my application, and about an hour later, got an email saying I wasn't eligible because I'm not from New Brunswick. I sent them a very annoyed email asking them to clarify their website if that is the case, since I wouldn't have put so much effort into it. Annoying!

There are a few other ones I can apply for, but they don't have deadlines until the new year, so I'm ignoring them for now. I'm also currently working on numerous funding applications for travel and research, since I plan on doing some museum visits. Hopefully those will come through.

Otherwise, I've run into an interesting predicament. I've heard from people from other universities, that they could help to fund an international PhD, albeit not entirely, but at least partially, through department or school funding. Then the question was raised, if they can do it, why can't Bristol?? To that, I can only say: I have no idea. I'm not sure why Bristol seems unwilling to help international students. All I know is it's very frustrating. All I want is a little bit of money to help me through! Who wants to help? Anyone? Pleeeeease?