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School of Geography

Collecting forest data

Floristic and functional dynamics in tropical forests

Supervisors: Prof Oliver Phillips, Dr Tim Baker, Dr Simon Lewis, Dr Kyle Dexter (University of Edinburgh)
Funding: European Research Council (ERC) as part of the T-FORCES project.

Why did you decide to study for a PhD, and why Leeds?

The idea of producing knowledge has always fascinated me. That was the main reason why, during my undergrad in Biology, I decided I wanted to be a researcher. Back in Brazil, my home country, I did a masters’ degree looking at the Ecology of trees in the Atlantic Forest. During that time I had the opportunity to go to the field, learn about how the forest works and try to understand its complexity. That was when I fell in love with Ecology and with the tropical forest.

The Ecology and Global Change cluster in the School of Geography is one of the most important research groups in the world for Tropical Forest Ecology. By the end of my masters I applied for a PhD scholarship in Leeds to look at how climate change is affecting tropical forests. It was the idea of being amongst the best researchers in tropical forests and being able to learn with them that brought me to the UK.

What is your experience of PhD study in the School and what skills have you learnt?

The adaptation process was quite challenging. It is always hard to start things from zero in a foreign place. Luckily the staff and the students at the School of Geography are really supportive, efficient and friendly. The students are always organizing social events and are really welcoming to new starters. I had frequent meetings with my supervisor who patiently guided me through my first steps in the PhD. Weekly cluster meetings helped me to keep updated in subjects that were often related to my PhD topic. In a few months I was adapted and feeling at home in Leeds.

The whole process is really individual-based. In the end, your thesis depends on yourself, therefore hard work and discipline are constantly needed. However, the PhD is full of opportunities. I had really eye-opening experiences by going back to the tropical forest in Brazil to collect data which will help in my research. Here, I also gained valuable teaching experience by helping with lectures in different modules for undergraduates. I also attended many courses and presented my work in conferences.

What are your career aspirations?

My plan for the future is to remain on the same path, researching the tropical forest and the effects of climate change on this ecosystem. I would like to stay in academia, therefore the next step is probably a Post Doc position. I am also really passionate about teaching, and I would love to one day teach about the forest at a university in Brazil, but this is still some way off. All the experiences I have had so far and all the skills I have learned during my PhD will be essential to make all these plans real.