Kelsie Long: An ear to the ground

Kelsie Long’s success in the 2015 Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition proves that while fish ear stones might not be sexy, they are interesting.

Fish don’t have ears we can see, but they do have ear stones, or otoliths, for hearing. According to PhD student Kelsie Long from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences, these ear stones can also tell us some pretty great stories, if we take the time to listen to them.

“In my PhD I’m using the ear stones of fish excavated from shoreline sand dunes to reconstruct past lake levels and climate at Lake Mungo, one of the earliest sites of human occupation in Australia,” explains Kelsie.

“I think that archaeology is a pretty sexy topic, mostly because of Lara Croft and Indiana Jones, but it's less sexy when you are in the archaeogeochemistry group and work on the chemistry of fish ear stones,” she says. “So I tried to make it a bit more interesting.”

Any PhD student will tell you that the degree is gruelling, but Kelsie says that taking on the added 3MT challenge has actually rescued her from the PhD doldrums.

“Earlier this year I was pretty close to just quitting my PhD after two years of work because I felt like my research topic was stupid and wrong. I think this is something most people go through and I'm really glad I kept going.

“I actually have the 3MT to thank for my current relationship with my thesis. It seems more interesting and important now that I'm seeing it from the outside a bit more.”

Also thanks to the 3MT competition, Kelsie says she has gained the communication skills essential for a researcher.

“In general, I think that everyone who does research has a very high level of knowledge of a very small research area. So it's important to be able to break your work down for everyone, people in your research field and most importantly for the general public.

“I want to be able to say with confidence the key concepts of my research, without having to feel awkward, embarrassed or like the other person is just going to find it boring.”

As a grand finalist in this year’s ANU 3MT competition, Kelsie’s talk will undoubtedly be the most interesting presentation on fish ear stones the audience has ever heard.

*Kelsie went on to be awarded 2nd place in the ANU 3MT grand final for 2015.