Kevin Arbuckle

One of my pet snakes sitting on the desk next to me - she'll be joining me in a lecture later :)

Favourite Thing: Looking at pretty pictures of cute animals and being able to call it work!



Coltness High School (1999-2004); University of Glasgow (2004-2010); University of Liverpool (2012-now)


5 Highers (Maths, English, Chemistry, Biology, Music; equivalent to A Levels); MSci in Zoology

Work History:

I have worked in paid and voluntary contexts in various pet shops, zoos, and Glasgow’s Hunterian Zoology Museum.

Current Job:

PhD student


University of Liverpool

Me and my work

I’m really just a big kid – growing up with an interest in animals and natural history and now being paid to study it!

Since I was really young I’ve always been interested in animals. I started with British wildlife (especially creepy crawlie things) and dinosaurs and quickly developed a fascination with those animals that many people hate, such as snakes, lizards, spiders, scorpions, and many insects. In fact, when I was a kid I used to spend a lot of time playing in woods and both watching and catching all kinds of creatures, many of which I took home and kept as pets (not that my mum knew!). The more I’ve seen, the more I’ve added to the list of animals I think are cool, and I now try to work on many different groups including reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and insects.

Nowadays I am lucky enough to call this same childish interest work 🙂 . I have a bit of an obssession with evolutionary trees (or ‘phylogenies’), which are a bit like family trees for species, and I use these to ask all sorts of questions about how animals evolve. For example, I look at what it means for an animal to have some chemical defence (e.g. a venom, poison, or skunk stink) – does it behave differently because it does not have to hide from predators so much? Or what about camouflage and warning signals (like the stripes of bees or the beautiful colours of poison dart frogs)? How do they evolve and affect the evolution of animals?

I am also interested in the idea of ‘convergent evolution’, or ‘convergence’. This is where the same thing evolve separately in different groups of animals, such as flight in birds, bats, and insects, or yellow and black stripes in bees, wasps, and hoverflies. What features are convergent, what causes this to happen, and how can we measure it? Some of my work involves creating methods to measure convergent evolution and then using these methods (along with others) to answer these types of questions.

Although these are the main things I’m working on at the moment, I do have many other interests too. I have done research into how to look after animals, animal nutrition, the evolution of intelligence, and how living on an island might influence the biology of animals. There are a lot of different questions that I would like to answer in time, but alas we can’t do everything at once! There is a little more information on my work here:

In my spare time, I love music of all sorts – from classical to punk to cheesy pop. I play drums, guitar, and bass, as well as occasionally write some songs and (even more rarely) poetry. On top of this I also enjoy salsa dancing and bachatta (another type of Latin dance), and keeping all sorts of reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.

My Typical Day

Arrive, drink coffee, work, more coffee, eat, work, extra coffee, leave.

A typical day is hard to describe. One of the great things about science is that each day is different, so I rarely get bored. One day I could be poking some caterpillars in the lab, the next I could spend most of the day searching the internet for scientific articles (or pretty pictures) to get some data, and the next I could be getting the computer to work for me by doing some analyses and (hopefully) getting some answers to interesting questions. Of course, most days are fuelled by caffiene to a greater or lesser extent 🙂

What I'd do with the money

I’m a Scientist goes live!

If I win the money from this competition, I would use it to fund visits to local schools to enthuse people about science, share personal experiences of what science involves, and let people know what opportunities there are if they want to get into science. It is much more interesting for people to hear about such things face-to-face and get to know what options exist. In many places, including Liverpool (where I am now), there are many areas where most people might not be aware of career options or how science might suit them, much less had the opportunity to discuss these things with someone involved. I would use the money to try to change this and hopefully inspire a new generation of scientists and educated adults alike!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

A grown-up kid

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Blondie, R.E.M., the Clash, Divine Comedy, and too many more to list here!

What's your favourite food?

Anything full of fat and/or sugar, preferrably deep-fried (I am Scottish after all)

What is the most fun thing you've done?

There’s been a lot of good memories in my life, let’s say playing in a samba band while I was at school, including a song that involved a ‘drum solo battle’ with me and another drumkit – sooo much fun!

What did you want to be after you left school?

Scientist (hey, dreams can come true :) )

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Of course, apparently homework is not optional…

What was your favourite subject at school?

Music (at least it was the most enjoyable)

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

Apparently the answer is writing an article on feeding chicks to pet snakes, given the number of downloads and interest it has got. It’s a nice feeling to have some kind of positive impact on animal welfare!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

The natural world. I mean, I don’t see how anyone can spend any time looking at nature and not be inspired

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Who knows – I’ve never thought about that much. It would have to be something related to animals though

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

1) Health; 2) Love; 3) Happiness (what more do you need?)

Tell us a joke.

A man walks into a bar. He says “ouch!”. It was an iron bar.

Other stuff

Work photos: