Greetings! I am Catherine Sheard, an evolutionary biologist who studies avian macroecology and human culture/language evolution. I’m currently a postdoc in the Laland Lab in the School of Biology at the University of St Andrews. Before that I did a short stint in the excd.lab at the University of Bristol, and I did my PhD at the Edward Grey Institute of Ornithology, University of Oxford.
Yes, I study both birds and languages.
As an undergraduate, I double-majored in mathematics and ecology & evolutionary biology. I’m broadly interested in diversity and explaining how/why things change over time, and I’ve always been a bit geeky about both birdwatching and learning new languages. Language evolution and biological evolution are quantitatively very similar, but the two disciplines have traditionally operated in isolation. Part of my research focuses on bridging this gap by facilitating communication between the two fields.
My parents are also birdwatchers, so I’ve always known that birds have cool names in English — when I was learning to read, a copy of National Geographic’s Birds of North America would keep me occupied for hours. Between a year and a half working part-time in the collections of the Peabody Museum of Natural History and nearly two years of my PhD spent collecting avian biometric data in a variety of museums (primarily Tring and the American Museum of Natural History), though, I am also accustomed to the little joys that are scientific names. Museum work can be at times monotonous — and very cold! — but the diversity of languages found on museum labels rivals the diversity of the specimens themselves and provide a sure source of endless entertainment.