(This podcast has now ended. Please check out PGR Podcast for the latest content from Doctoral College) A podcast from Researcher Development about topics relating to PhD researchers, including careers for researchers, beyond academia, from the University of Exeter. Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Monday Apr 26, 2021
Monday Apr 26, 2021
Monday Apr 26, 2021
Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree! In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks Dr. Joanna Alfaro, a University of Exeter doctoral graduate who is now the Director of the Peruvian conservation organisation Pro Delphinus.
Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses
00:00:10,880 --> 00:00:23,270
Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter, Doctoral College
00:00:23,270 --> 00:00:28,070
Hello and welcome to the latest episode of Beyond Your Research Degree. I'm your host, Kelly Preece
00:00:28,070 --> 00:00:32,150
And for this episode, I'm delighted to be talking to Dr Joanna Alfaro,
00:00:32,150 --> 00:00:38,090
who is the president and director of the Peruvian conservation organisation Pro Delphinus
00:00:38,090 --> 00:00:41,780
So, Joanna. Are you happy to introduce yourself? Yeah.
00:00:41,780 --> 00:00:45,770
Well, my name is Joanna Alfaro and I am Peruvian.
00:00:45,770 --> 00:00:57,290
I work in Pro Delphinus and Universidad Científica del Sur. So in 2008 I joined in the programme for PhD
00:00:57,290 --> 00:01:03,380
My advisor was Brendan Godley and Annette Broderick at Exeter
00:01:03,380 --> 00:01:16,670
And I was. That's probably my favourite years as being back a student in the U.K., a dream that I was able to fulfil.
00:01:16,670 --> 00:01:25,460
And for my the theme of my PhD was ecology and conservation of marine turtles.
00:01:25,460 --> 00:01:34,270
And that was also great because it allowed me to to apply the knowledge and the
00:01:34,270 --> 00:01:41,080
experience that I got to working with sea turtles in Peru towards my PhD.
00:01:41,080 --> 00:01:45,210
It's brilliant. Thank you. And what are you doing now?
00:01:45,210 --> 00:01:56,700
So when did you graduate? So the though after the PhD, the I was able to to be back at home and and keep working.
00:01:56,700 --> 00:02:04,710
And what I love, which is marine conservation. So the projects we we have right now are focus.
00:02:04,710 --> 00:02:13,470
It was a very interesting transition because we started our careers being a species oriented.
00:02:13,470 --> 00:02:21,330
And by that I mean that I was I love dolphins and whales and sea turtles.
00:02:21,330 --> 00:02:25,110
So that was my interest. But we learnt over time.
00:02:25,110 --> 00:02:34,880
And and my PhD was a big lesson learnt that is not only about the animals that we were,
00:02:34,880 --> 00:02:42,360
that we're when we're working with animals, we should also look at the people that is related to the animals.
00:02:42,360 --> 00:02:49,630
So in my case, these people were fishermen. And mostly small-scale fishermen.
00:02:49,630 --> 00:02:59,020
And so the the the current work we do now is trying to support fishermen, to keep fishing.
00:02:59,020 --> 00:03:09,520
But in a more clean way, in a sustainable way, in a way that they can keep fishing for the for many,
00:03:09,520 --> 00:03:15,010
many years to come, but also in a way that we are helping animals.
00:03:15,010 --> 00:03:23,300
And in this case, it'll be the ones that we have this passion for the dolphins, the whales, the sea turtles.
00:03:23,300 --> 00:03:33,580
So it's it's a very good combination to be able to to be in the middle between biodiversity
00:03:33,580 --> 00:03:43,600
and economic activities as fisheries and also communities and engaging the main users,
00:03:43,600 --> 00:03:54,900
which are fishermen. That's great and really interesting how, like you say, that you've moved from thinking about particular species to.
00:03:54,900 --> 00:04:05,550
To fishermen. And that sort of shift in focus. So can you tell me a little bit about when you were doing your PhD?
00:04:05,550 --> 00:04:10,110
Did you know that you want to move on to this kind of role? Oh, yes.
00:04:10,110 --> 00:04:18,360
Well, that's a great question. And that's a question that I mention when when I have the chance.
00:04:18,360 --> 00:04:28,910
When we started the PhD, we had no idea that we will end up working with fisheries and with people.
00:04:28,910 --> 00:04:35,400
And I think that's an idea that a lot of young people start with.
00:04:35,400 --> 00:04:46,950
I mean, you go with with with this love for the ocean and the creatures, but then it's it's important to realise that it's.
00:04:46,950 --> 00:04:56,310
It will give you have to become useful. It's a bad way to say it, but you have to become useful for society.
00:04:56,310 --> 00:05:02,700
And and it's great if you can, because, well, that's a role we all have.
00:05:02,700 --> 00:05:13,050
But but it and in a way, our careers as researchers and biologists are key to to to make this transition
00:05:13,050 --> 00:05:22,260
between nature and wildlife and maintain the livelihoods of of people like fishermen,
00:05:22,260 --> 00:05:28,820
in my case, for example. So can you tell me a bit more about.
00:05:28,820 --> 00:05:36,620
The conservation organisation you work for. And what kind of what sort of work that you're doing and how you're drawing on
00:05:36,620 --> 00:05:46,170
your experience as a as a researcher and and particularly during your PhD
00:05:46,170 --> 00:05:55,150
Yes, sure. So my PhD was on sea turtles and most of my chapters had to be on sea turtles.
00:05:55,150 --> 00:06:01,710
And I did my PhD with my husband, which is which it was a great challenge.
00:06:01,710 --> 00:06:10,340
At some point, we were we were sharing the same.
00:06:10,340 --> 00:06:14,830
Stress, and it's but we made it through somehow.
00:06:14,830 --> 00:06:20,680
And the we are we can we evolve from being a species oriented.
00:06:20,680 --> 00:06:25,000
So my my focus was marine turtles
00:06:25,000 --> 00:06:32,290
workingwith Brendan and and my husband was working on seabirds and marine mammals.
00:06:32,290 --> 00:06:41,380
So we shifted a little bit once being back at home in Pery to work to to apply what we learnt and
00:06:41,380 --> 00:06:49,030
apply it to improve fisheries and support fishermen to continue to be able to continue fishing.
00:06:49,030 --> 00:06:54,820
So that has changed just slightly or like I don't know.
00:06:54,820 --> 00:07:00,310
And the thing is, that is it continues changing, especially now with COVID
00:07:00,310 --> 00:07:05,770
Some of our work at Pro Delphinus has changed dramatically.
00:07:05,770 --> 00:07:15,400
We can no longer go to the field. We do most of the stuff by phone call or Zoom or Whatsapp
00:07:15,400 --> 00:07:26,470
So we are where we see changes in our work during the the latest circumstances of of health worldwide.
00:07:26,470 --> 00:07:31,870
And that's the fun part of it. I think the to be constant changing.
00:07:31,870 --> 00:07:36,220
I think it it brings challenges is not always the same.
00:07:36,220 --> 00:07:44,500
Every day there is something new that we are learning, but it's is where we are enjoying this.
00:07:44,500 --> 00:07:57,490
Right. Really. And Pro Delphinus there is we have perhaps over 20 people on the staff and we keep growing, which is very good.
00:07:57,490 --> 00:08:05,110
And each of them have an interest and that's the that's what it reaches the the environment
00:08:05,110 --> 00:08:11,890
we work in because somebody else may be interested in the social side of the work we do.
00:08:11,890 --> 00:08:21,210
Somebody else could be interested in the economics of it. So it's it's I'm enjoying it.
00:08:21,210 --> 00:08:22,410
It sounds amazing.
00:08:22,410 --> 00:08:30,880
And not only kind of really rewarding work, but also incredibly diverse in the different things that you're gonna be doing, especially.
00:08:30,880 --> 00:08:37,770
And, you know, as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic and the impact that that's had on all, you know, the ways, everybody's way of working.
00:08:37,770 --> 00:08:42,300
So you won an award. Last October.
00:08:42,300 --> 00:08:48,130
Did you not Peru's highest award for conservation? Can you tell us a little bit about that.
00:08:48,130 --> 00:08:59,420
Oh, man, that was fun. That was that was unexpected. So they they sent me an email saying, the name of the award is Carlos Ponce
00:08:59,420 --> 00:09:05,080
Premio para la Conservacion which is a very renown prize
00:09:05,080 --> 00:09:16,160
And for Peru, for people working in conservation in Peru. The organisers is a group a consortium is Conservation International.
00:09:16,160 --> 00:09:25,810
WCS, Pronaturaleza these organisations have worked for a long time in Peru.
00:09:25,810 --> 00:09:37,360
And when with with the e-mail when I answered, I said yes, but I haven't applied to this award and I had no idea.
00:09:37,360 --> 00:09:42,340
And then the lady. Well, when I was notified, it was a big surprise.
00:09:42,340 --> 00:09:51,460
I enjoyed it a lot. The ceremony was by Zoom and that was that was very different.
00:09:51,460 --> 00:09:56,830
But it was very moving. And for me personally was very moving.
00:09:56,830 --> 00:10:05,050
And for Pro Delphinus, I think the staff really enjoy it because it's not an award for a person.
00:10:05,050 --> 00:10:11,710
But to, in my opinion, is an award for an organisation that has over two decades working.
00:10:11,710 --> 00:10:18,540
So it was it was a very nice recognition for our work.
00:10:18,540 --> 00:10:27,000
Absolutely. Could you tell me a bit more about how Pro Delphinus started?
00:10:27,000 --> 00:10:32,460
Yes. Well, Pro Delphinus started to so.
00:10:32,460 --> 00:10:38,310
The father, the mother of Pro Delphinus, called Sipek whi is a
00:10:38,310 --> 00:10:40,350
a private organisation,
00:10:40,350 --> 00:10:53,340
a group of biologists and veterinarians living in Pucusana and working in marine mammals back in 1990s and towards the end of the 90s.
00:10:53,340 --> 00:11:02,670
They decided to to be more inclusive for for students and volunteers.
00:11:02,670 --> 00:11:08,850
And that was the start of Pro Delphinus and for for their early years.
00:11:08,850 --> 00:11:15,760
We didn't do much. But in 2003, we started strong.
00:11:15,760 --> 00:11:26,500
It was the year that we applied for a few grants and we got them all, which was a very nice surprise and a great challenge.
00:11:26,500 --> 00:11:32,080
We we started growing slowly. We have been growing organically.
00:11:32,080 --> 00:11:38,570
I want to say over the years, right now, I think we probably have.
00:11:38,570 --> 00:11:43,070
Ten projects and two are big.
00:11:43,070 --> 00:11:47,940
One is to focus on sustainable fisheries.
00:11:47,940 --> 00:11:54,560
The small scale and the although the other one is for leatherback turtles.
00:11:54,560 --> 00:12:08,030
Conservation. And and I want to take the chance to to mention that the population of Eastern leatherback pacific turtles are doing very bad.
00:12:08,030 --> 00:12:18,740
So there's a bunch of countries from Mexico to Chile working on improve the conservation of this species to avoid extinction.
00:12:18,740 --> 00:12:24,170
This is one of the species that is highly impacted and nesting sites and at sea.
00:12:24,170 --> 00:12:35,090
So this project is all about Leatherbacks and working with to reduce bycatch and the water.
00:12:35,090 --> 00:12:42,600
And is this work with turtles that led you to become involved in Pro Delphinus or
00:12:42,600 --> 00:12:54,150
Was it the fisheries work? It was my my work at Pro Delphinus started with marine mammals, and it started with dolphins because.
00:12:54,150 --> 00:13:03,330
Because then when I was a student in the 90's, dolphins were brought to shore and my.
00:13:03,330 --> 00:13:14,140
But if you ask me what I thought. My thoughts about a young student I wanted so badly to work with dolphins.
00:13:14,140 --> 00:13:23,180
It was my dream. So this group that accepted me as a volunteer, Sipek, they worked with dolphins.
00:13:23,180 --> 00:13:26,210
So I went there and started volunteer and.
00:13:26,210 --> 00:13:40,060
But I had no idea that all the dolphins were going to be dead because they brought them from the fisheries interactions to shore and.
00:13:40,060 --> 00:13:46,450
So it started with dolphins and then they evolved and move on to turtles.
00:13:46,450 --> 00:13:52,360
Because as I was observing dolphins, it was the same issue with turtles.
00:13:52,360 --> 00:13:59,770
One day we went to a port and there was leatherback turtle laying on this Scarapas
00:13:59,770 --> 00:14:08,260
And that was a pretty shocking image. Luckily, we don't see that anymore these days.
00:14:08,260 --> 00:14:14,230
But that was the start of my interest on sea turtles.
00:14:14,230 --> 00:14:26,820
And I was had had been very rewarding. In fact, the project we have that I just mentioned on leatherback turtles is trying to.
00:14:26,820 --> 00:14:37,130
distribute LED light which have proved to help reduce the bycatch of sea turtles.
00:14:37,130 --> 00:14:44,960
And with this project, we can hand them, the fishermen, to have them in their nets to avoid
00:14:44,960 --> 00:14:53,110
The entanglement of the turtles. And reduce mortality, hopefully.
00:14:53,110 --> 00:14:58,690
You're currently the director at Pro Delphinus. Did you.
00:14:58,690 --> 00:15:05,450
Did you go straight into that position after your you completed your PhD
00:15:05,450 --> 00:15:25,270
No. No. I started volunteering and my volunteer was cleaning floors, dusting bones, picking up buckets of guts of Dolphin.
00:15:25,270 --> 00:15:32,720
My volutneer was pretty rough, and I think it was good.
00:15:32,720 --> 00:15:45,140
I'm very grateful that it was a rough start because there was a test in my mind was a test and probably in the mind of my my bosses on that time.
00:15:45,140 --> 00:15:52,430
So I started as a volunteer cleaning, mostly helping in everything.
00:15:52,430 --> 00:15:57,230
And then I became a junior researcher.
00:15:57,230 --> 00:16:08,210
And then from there, an assistant researcher. And then now I'm the director of Pro Delphinus, which is very different.
00:16:08,210 --> 00:16:16,090
But I still clean. So really a case of sort of getting involved with the organisation from the ground up.
00:16:16,090 --> 00:16:29,130
Yes. Yes. And that has been good. I am I'm happy that it was started that way, because now I can I can place myself in the shoes of the volunteers.
00:16:29,130 --> 00:16:40,880
And and and I, I work my way up, which which was has been a rewarding feel is.
00:16:40,880 --> 00:16:46,070
So could you tell me kind of like what your typical day is like?
00:16:46,070 --> 00:16:51,050
I know the answer is going to be there isn't one Yeah, sure.
00:16:51,050 --> 00:16:54,430
My typical day has changed now.
00:16:54,430 --> 00:16:59,240
And there were a lot of sitting. A lot of computer time.
00:16:59,240 --> 00:17:10,850
But before that. And that's because of COVID then because the office is partially closed, we are starting to go but not many hours and et cetera.
00:17:10,850 --> 00:17:17,960
But my normal day before COVID was a little bit more fun.
00:17:17,960 --> 00:17:25,250
Most of my days will be meetings with government officers or in some occasions I also
00:17:25,250 --> 00:17:31,820
go to fishing ports because I don't want to lose the connection of with the field.
00:17:31,820 --> 00:17:43,220
If somebody asked me in my job, I want to be able to tell them from experience what I have been observing and respond with the experience.
00:17:43,220 --> 00:17:47,420
So the contact with the field and fishermen, it's important to me.
00:17:47,420 --> 00:17:56,830
So I will go I will combine meetings, office time with some travelling and.
00:17:56,830 --> 00:18:02,350
And some and phone calls, a lot of phone calls, too. We write a lot of papers.
00:18:02,350 --> 00:18:11,110
We we work on that. That's our most precious.
00:18:11,110 --> 00:18:20,290
Give give back to society and to academia and to the country that has this has been the focus.
00:18:20,290 --> 00:18:25,750
Last year we did over 20 papers, the year before I think 18.
00:18:25,750 --> 00:18:29,590
So we're we're good. The staff is great about that.
00:18:29,590 --> 00:18:34,040
They're really into research and publishing.
00:18:34,040 --> 00:18:47,230
And that sounds such a varied day and a varied kind of type of work in terms of advocacy and being in the field, writing papers and, you know,
00:18:47,230 --> 00:18:51,730
still having that really important kind of academic research contribution,
00:18:51,730 --> 00:18:57,890
as well as the wider kind of contribution that you're making to conservation.
00:18:57,890 --> 00:19:02,840
Sounds like a fantastic kind of combination. I wonder if we can sort of.
00:19:02,840 --> 00:19:07,490
To finish up what advice you have for anyone who is currently doing PhD
00:19:07,490 --> 00:19:15,450
Who wants to. Pursue a career in the kind of conservation organisation that you're working in.
00:19:15,450 --> 00:19:24,870
Mm hmm. Yeah, well, the advice in general will be if you have a topic that is of your interest.
00:19:24,870 --> 00:19:29,290
That's great. But if you don't, it will come up.
00:19:29,290 --> 00:19:35,430
It will come up at some point and you will identify something that is really interesting for you.
00:19:35,430 --> 00:19:44,250
So don't worry if you don't have that passion that that some people do at early age and take
00:19:44,250 --> 00:19:53,550
opportunities as they come to experiment and try different things within your career and out of your career,
00:19:53,550 --> 00:20:04,890
because sometimes you can combine things that are not specifically related to biology or research.
00:20:04,890 --> 00:20:12,000
And if you're thinking about working in an NGO is this is great.
00:20:12,000 --> 00:20:18,270
I mean, for us has been great. I know it's challenging because you have to look for your own funds.
00:20:18,270 --> 00:20:29,070
But the early years are difficult. And then it becomes smoother as your expertise, as you develop your expertise.
00:20:29,070 --> 00:20:38,880
And combining that with PhD had been for us a great step in our careers, in our lives.
00:20:38,880 --> 00:20:50,240
We still collaborate with Brendan So we build a little network in Exeter and that I hope it continues over time.
00:20:50,240 --> 00:20:58,360
And and and and I'm looking forward for what's coming in the future.
00:20:58,360 --> 00:21:09,160
Thank you so much to Joanna for taking the time out to talk about the really exciting and important work that she's doing.
00:21:09,160 --> 00:21:24,884
And that's it for this episode. Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.