Biennial Challenger Conference: Liverpool

Hugh O’Sullivan

Plymouth University


A big shout out to the Challenger society for such an amazing conference and also for allocating me with a travel grant which allowed me to attend the Biennial Conference in Liverpool. It was a once in a lifetime experience and something I shan’t forget anytime soon.

I would like to start this piece by saying that the fact the Liverpool city is the home of the Beatles had absolutely no bearing on my decision to attend the challenger conference, Ok that’s a complete fib, but I am being honest when I say my trip to the Cavern (Beatles early residence bar) was not the highlight of the trip. Liverpool is truly a City of culture and great Irish bars.

I was amazed at the diversity of research present at the Challenger society from the genetics of Mediterranean dolphins to implementing well informed science into policy, there was something there for everyone. This year I completed my master’s dissertation at Plymouth University, my dissertation focused on the effects of phytoplankton variability on larval fish species (plaice and sandeel) in the North Sea, which is an important factor in the survival of early year classes for recruitment to the exploitable fisheries stock. I got a chance to attend some great poster and presentations events related to my own research as well as completely different areas. I had a few favourite talks from those in the marine policy sessions where some really interesting conversations broke out along with the early career events where I got some great no nonsense advice for my career.

I presented a poster on my dissertation “Phytoplankton phenology and its effects on plaice and sandeel larvae in the North Sea” which was a first for me. I got some interesting feedback from other scientists at the session which was fantastic. Speaking to people about the topic was really stimulating and made me think about the issue of fisheries management. I also got a chance to see some posters that gave me great insight into the diversity of research in marine science. Completely exhausted I headed for an “authentic” pizza with some new buddies I had made from the early careers event.  Liverpool is such an interesting city and despite some really questionable karaoke bars the music scene was fantastic, I was delighted to hear “Galway girl” piping from a nearby Irish pub and dragged my colleagues along.

The highlight of the conference for me was volunteering for the challenger outreach event, where kids from local schools got a chance to see what challenger is all about. It was my responsibility to go around a selection of posters and help the children choose one which they would later present. We got to shoot a dolphin (poster) with a crossbow as part of the activities, which needless to say was some of the student’s favourite part. The students themselves were a brilliant and intelligent bunch, I was so happy to talk to them about their opinions and future plans, be they in marine science or not, I will definitely volunteer for outreach again.

I am already looking forward to Newcastle in 2018 and seeing all my new friends again, to any early career scientists out there, I cannot recommend the challenger conference more highly it is a place for knowledge, excellent careers advice and most importantly fun.  


Hugh O’Sullivan has recently completed his Masters in applied marine science at Plymouth University, his masters research dissertation aims to improve our understanding on the relationship between phytoplankton phenology (timing of annually reoccurring blooms) and fish larvae abundance. He hopes that by increasing our knowledge on these relationships we can use the information to inform fisheries management in Europe and further afield. Previous to starting his masters in September 2015, Hugh completed a degree in marine science at the National University of Ireland, Galway, with focus on the distribution of deep sea fish in the Whittard Canyon using remotely operated submersible vehicles. Hugh now works for the centre for environment, fisheries and aquaculture science (Cefas) as a fisheries observer. He hopes to continue in the field of fisheries science with the aim of enrolling in a Ph.D. once he has found a stimulating topic to explore.

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