Elspeth Profile

Elspeth Kenny, BSc.


For more information on my research and other activities, please visit my website.


PhD Student

University of Sheffield

I grew up in Gloucestershire and lived in France before studying for a degree in Biology at the University of Sheffield. During my second year I studied at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where I worked on evolution in stickleback involving 4 weeks fieldwork on Vancouver Island. I returned to Sheffield for my final year, where I was awarded the Achievement in Biosciences Prize for 2013. I enjoyed the broad range of topics covered during my degree, but I find bird behaviour especially fascinating.


Previous projects

2013 – Third year dissertation at University of Sheffield: ‘What impact do green roofs have on animal diversity in urban areas?’

2013 – Third year project at University of Sheffield: ‘Embryonic exposure to conspecific alarm substance affects predator inspection behaviours in larval zebrafish (Danio rerio)’

2012 – Second year at McGill University: ‘Quantifying selection in threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) in the Misty Lake system: Stabilisation in three distinct habitats’


Current work

2013-16/17 – PhD at University of Sheffield supervised by Prof. Tim Birkhead: ‘Behaviour and ecology of guillemots (Uria aalge)’

My project looks at how the social structure of guillemot colonies affects breeding success. Guillemots breed in very close proximity and have developed a range of social behaviours to cope with the intense competition for food and space. These long-lived seabirds generally return to the same breeding site every year so can form lasting relationships with their neighbours. It is thought that allopreening, where birds preen their neighbours’ feathers, is important in building both partner and neighbour relationships and maintaining group cohesion. I am looking at the mechanism of allopreening and the role of this behaviour in relation to group living and breeding success. Understanding population fluctuations in seabirds such as guillemots is useful as they can indicate the state of other species in the ecosystem.



I am an enthusiastic advocate of public engagement with science, and have a particular interest in encouraging girls into STEM subjects. I was a UK runner-up in an international science communication competition, FameLab, where I explained siblicide in blue-footed boobies in 3 minutes using flippers. Through this I enjoyed being a panel member in a quiz show at the British Science Festival in 2013 and participating in the launch of FameLab in Sweden.

I was a founder member of the team designing the world’s first robotic plant, RoboPlant, created to demonstrate photosynthesis and the importance of plants in our lives. RoboPlant was the highlight of the 2013 annual APS Schools Christmastime Lecture ‘Sunshine For Breakfast’ which I helped design and organise alongside Dr Colin Osborne and Dr Fiona Hunter in the department.


I am excited about our lab plans for outreach…watch this space!


Outside of science, I have been known to play Ultimate Frisbee, Quidditch and fence, but after various hilarious injuries I have switched to climbing – we’ll see how it goes. I love cycling in the peaks, running half-marathons, pubs, books, crochet and cake.


Tweets @ElspethKenny

Fieldwork blog www.elspethskomerblog.wordpress.com