Women in Science: the PhD student

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Meet some of ZSL's female researchers and conservationists to discover more about their roles and what advice they would give anyone interested in pursuing a career in conservation science.

Heidi Ma is a PhD student based within ZSL's Instiute of Zoology and the Hainan Gibbon Project Coordinator.

Photo -  Heidi Ma sat on the grassy slope of a valley with hills in the background

What does your role involve at ZSL?

My research focuses on people living in rural villages that are positioned close to nature reserves in China. 

I’m interested in understanding local people's perceptions of biodiversity loss and species decline, and their use of natural resources.  I’m also interested in patterns of variation in ecological knowledge (how people’s understanding and knowledge of nature varies across and within these villages)… and what all of this means for conservation!  

As a project coordinator, I help deliver conservation activities on the ground for the Hainan gibbon, the world's rarest ape.  This involves overseeing research projects, organizing meetings, working with a large network of international collaborators, and raising awareness and funding.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in conservation science?

I am from Oregon, in the beautiful Pacific Northwest of the US, which has always inspired me to be outside and learn from nature.  This led me to study environmental science and art during university and biodiversity conservation during my masters, before my current role as project coordinator at ZSL and a PhD student.

What's the best thing about your work?

The best part of my job is the satisfaction of problem solving and applying interdisciplinary skills on a daily basis to scientific questions and conservation challenges that our world faces today.  It's also a huge privilege to travel to fascinating places for work and see some incredibly diverse environments and species, many of which are also extremely fragile and threatened. 

What advice would you give anyone wanting to work in conservation science?

Always be curious - never stop exploring yourself and the world we are in, whether it is through travel, art, or learning a new language.  Have lots of interests that might not be obviously related to biology or conservation, because they might help you in surprising ways later in your career and at the very least be enriching and give you different perspectives.

Photo - Heidi and Mr Chen Qing, outside talking
Heidi talks to Mr Chen Qing, a forest warden in Bawangling National Nature Reserve, Hainan.

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