Emma-Louise Fletcher: tackling wildlife challenges
"We are all dependent on the natural world for survival so exploring how to live more sustainably, even by making small changes; could result in you making an impact by influencing others." - Emma-Louise Fletcher.
Based at Queen's University Belfast in Northern Ireland, PhD student Emma-Louise Fletcher is tackling wildlife challenges head on with a thesis focussed on environmental security.
Environmental conservation is such an important sector, one which is perhaps not as highlighted as a mainstream career path, how did you enter into this field of research? Before I decided to apply for a PhD, I had worked at several jobs. Every individual is motivated differently, and I realised that I was waking up every day to invest so much time into a job for which I had no motivation for.
I left my job, and brainstormed; asking what I was passionate about and I came to an obvious conclusion, the environment! I had been following anti-poaching campaigns on social media and the news, reading up on charity and conservation work in Africa. I realised that poaching was a colossal problem that involved more than just wildlife conservation. This subject (poaching) became a gradual fascination as I began to question why there were no changes being made to protect wildlife and integrate local communities more intensively.
Living in Ireland my whole life, I haven't had the opportunity to be involved in anti-poaching projects or animal conservation. So I mapped out my career and education routes to pursue a career in the field of conservation. I had achieved a BA in Spanish and then studied International Relations obtaining an MA with commendation. The MA focused a lot on security, terrorism and conflict resolution. So I wrote a PhD proposal positioned on Environmental Security considering the security issues associated with environmental degradation. This allowed me to explore wildlife issues from a different angle focusing on poaching.
My thesis argues; using the case study of the South African Poaching Crisis; that security must be extended to consider the environment as more than just a natural resource, as human beings are essentially part of the ecosystems being destroyed. At the moment I am exploring green militarization, which is a broadly intensifying trend that uses the military within conservation practices.
What are the environmental concerns that you have for the planet? The biggest concern in my opinion is that human beings have stretched the natural world to its limits in terms of pollution, over-fishing, hunting, burning fossil fuels, dumping rubbish, deforestation; the list is long. If we cannot find a more sustainable way by which to live then the process of change; climate change and species extinction; is most definitely a reality. We are all dependent on the natural world for survival so exploring how to live more sustainably, even by making small changes; could result in you making an impact by influencing others.
In general what is the commitment needed for a PhD? The best advice would be to set realistic goals, don't pressure yourself to write thousands of words in a week when other things often arise that might distract you, it is quality not quantity; so be realistic. I like to set myself a deadline every two weeks, that way I can have a draft and a finished piece in a month if I work consistently.
The transition from undergraduate to post-graduate was there a big step up or was it a natural progress? Yes! It helped that I had studied at a masters level, but after working outside of academia for a few years engaging with complicated literature and writing at a higher level was very challenging.
In terms of your career - do you have to pursue your field of your study or are you open to looking at other career paths? I think it is important to keep my options open at this early stage of my PhD, but I know that I want to work within the wider field of conservation. I have also been considering an academic job in research as I could also continue to express and share my interests this way. At the moment I am enjoying life as a researcher so I will see what the next two years will bring.
If you could name your own planet what would you call it? I would probably call it Vearth! It would be a vegan lifestyle version of earth...
How do you kick-start your day? With a strong coconut milk coffee!
Words of advice for the youth of the planet: Be a voice for the voiceless and never stop believing in yourself. You can do wonderful things if you allow yourself to follow your passion.