Catching up with alumni: Ingrid Bobeková

Welcome to our “catching up with alumni” series where we introduce you to previous UW students over the years. Ingrid Bobeková is a 32 year old alum who graduated from the Coastal Marine Management master’s program in 2022. Ingrid's hobbies include knitting, surfing, hiking, photography, and bird watching.

What do you currently do?
I am an ecologist, specializing in birds, at Náttúrustofa Vestfjarða (Natural Science Institute of the Westfjords) in Bolungarvík. There, I am involved in a variety of projects, including studying Arctic tern breeding success, population dynamics of black guillemots, and monitoring cliff birds in Látrabjarg and Hornstrandir. Outside of work, I keep an eye on the local oystercatcher population, reading marked birds and marking chicks during the breeding season to learn and share information about their survival and movement!

What brought you to UW?
I have always had an interest in coastal studies. However, having studied my undergraduate degree at a landlocked university, I did not get to pursue that interest at that time. My colleague in Canada applied and got accepted to the Coastal and Marine Management program. I could not get it out of my head, so a year later, here I was as well!

What did you like about studying here?
I enjoyed the small class sizes and variety of courses, which I could select to shape the direction of my degree based on my interests. While it was daunting at first, I appreciated the freedom to choose my thesis topic and the place to do it. I love living in a small town which is so close to nature—the walk to class was often delayed by stops to admire the fantastic scenery, and to this day, the views still never get old.

Did you experience any culture shocks in Ísafjörður?
Mostly pleasant ones! Coming from a large city, I was pleased with the slowed pace of life, the sincerity of human interactions, and the trust in the community (never having to lock our front door or car!). I was also happy to discover a Polish grocery shop ‘SAM’, where I can buy food reminding me of my Slovak cuisine.

Which UW instructor would you choose as a teammate for a pub quiz?
Matthias would be a great teammate, especially if the quiz involves matters of flags and geography!

What was student life like here? What activities did you enjoy?
There is a little something for everyone here. There are plenty of outdoor activities which can be pursued year-round—from hiking, biking, watersports, and snow sports. I did not own a car in my first year, but that did not hinder me from exploring my surroundings by foot and bike. In the autumn, the mountainsides are covered in blueberries, and I spend many hours foraging in my favorite patches. There is also a big knitting community here, and every year some students take up the craft and hold little knitting hangouts. My favorite type of ‘night out’ is to visit Dokkan, the local brewery, and bring along whatever knitting project I am currently working on.

Do you have any tips for current students?
Try new activities – you will meet students coming from different backgrounds, and if they are willing to share their passions with you, you might find that they become yours as well.
Learn some basic Icelandic and engage with the community – I have found that the residents of the Westfjords have been very kind, generous, and welcoming. Even if you do not plan to stay, leave behind some positive impact on the community. And if you do plan to stay, getting to know the locals will help you settle in and make Ísafjörður feel like home.
Finding a thesis advisor who you can vibe with well can make all the difference in the great journey that is your thesis!
And lastly, pause to look at the birds (:

What was your favorite study spot?
I have spent most of my thesis writing days in the University library or cafeteria in the late evening when it was nice and quiet. The top floor of the public library (the old hospital) is also a lovely space and is often not busy.

What was your research on?
I studied how oystercatcher chicks develop independence from their parents, relating their behavior with the habitat they use. I spent hundreds of hours observing families of oystercatchers around Ísafjörður, and I completely fell in love with them. I found that to a coastal population of oystercatchers, nearby terrestrial resources, in addition to coastal ones, might be important to their success in the breeding season. This knowledge can help inform management and conservation decisions, such as delineating the critical spaces and time frames which need to be protected for breeding coastal birds, so that chicks may be raised undisturbed. You can check out my thesis called ‘The Secret Life of Wader Chicks – Understanding the ontogeny of behaviors towards independence in Eurasian oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus)’.

Where did you do your thesis research and why did you choose that location?
I stayed in Ísafjörður to do my thesis research. While I originally dreamed of going to New Zealand, those plans never developed due to the pandemic. I am very happy, however, that I have stayed – I was inspired by the work of the previous year’s student (Jamie Carroll) and her advisor (Verónica Méndez Aragón) and so I continued working with the same population of oystercatchers in the local area. I have not stopped since!

What is something that you learned here that you took with you?
Every class contributed a little something to the way I view the coastal world around me—whether it is being able to better identify the flora and fauna of the beach when I am out for a walk, understanding the mechanics of how waves are formed (useful for surfing!), or appreciating the challenges of the constant struggle between development, conservation, and sustainability that is always present around us.

In a zombie apocalypse, which UW staff member would be most likely to survive?
Peter Weiss is a skilled polyglot. Being able to communicate with the zombies surely would be an advantage—they just want to be understood!