Aldina Franco shares her career experiences and talks about working at the UEA Aldina Franco shares her career experiences and talks about working at the UEA

I am a conservation biologist interested in the role of environmental variables and global change on species range shifts and on the mechanisms underlying the movement and migratory behaviour of animals. I started working in the School of Environmental Sciences in 2009 and am currently a Senior Lecturer  (To link to Aldina's Staff Page, click here).

What inspired you to pursue a career in environmental sciences?

During my undergraduate degree at the University of Lisbon I met and helped several PhD students and postdocs working in ecology and biodiversity conservation. Their work really inspired me; I felt their work was essential to identify conservation actions that could make a difference for species and ecosystem conservation.

After finishing my Undergraduate degree and a Masters in Maths applied to Biological Sciences, I managed an EU LIFE project focusing on the conservation of endangered steppe birds. It was stimulating to do conservation in practice for a Portuguese NGO and I was also involved with reviewing the impact of EU Common Agricultural Policies in Portugal, but I realised that the social, economic and environmental variables were constantly changing, thus it was hard to propose long-lasting effective conservation measures. Past effective measures could become detrimental in the future if, for instance, climate change was not taken into account.

Thus, I decided I needed a better scientific background and applied for a PhD at UEA. I have really enjoyed working in Environmental Sciences Research since then.

Who encouraged you along the way? (Who are your role models and heroes?)

From an early age I learned to work hard and to solve problems in the farm with my parents and siblings, this was valuable training I received early on. I have always followed what interested me most rather than what would give me the best chances of getting a job.     

I was lucky and always worked with excellent supervisors and on projects that were extremely interesting to me. Several professors and supervisors inspired me and encouraged me along the way: Prof Jorge Palmeirim, Prof. Bill Sutherland, Prof. Jane Hill, Prof. Chris Thomas, Prof. Cheryl Schultz.

I do not really have role models but I am inspired by the work of many people that contribute to prevent species extinction and towards achieving global sustainability.

What do you most enjoy about your job?

I enjoy being an academic in the UK, science is valued by society. It is excellent to see that politicians frequently base their decisions on evidence generated by scientific work.

Academics have to be versatile; our work involves research, teaching, administration, enterprise and engagement. I like the diversity of tasks and the fact that it is a challenging and demanding job. I particularly enjoy formulating research hypotheses and exploring ways to answer research questions by testing hypotheses and discussing the results with students, post-doctoral researchers and colleagues; it is thrilling to see patterns in the data and to understand what they mean.

Also, I thoroughly enjoy doing field work in hot environments, hence working in the Mediterranean region.

What do you particularly appreciate or enjoy about working in ENV?

ENV is a large department with more than 60 academic staff covering physical, chemical, biological and social sciences. It is excellent to work in a multidisciplinary environment; the seminar series are excellent and foster collaborations and interesting discussions.

I feel I am lucky to work in a School and sector where colleagues support each other and where my personal needs are taken into account. I have created strong working relationships with several colleagues and these have helped me to excel while I was starting the job as a junior academic. As an established academic I particularly enjoy working with colleagues that are enthusiastic about their work, their enthusiasm is contagious.

How easy is it to achieve the balance you would like between an interesting career and your other responsibilities and interests?

In general I have a good balance between my career and family life and other interests (e.g. wildlife watching, gardening). It is not easy to have a good work-life balance in academia as it requires some effort and organisation skills, but in my experience, this all improves with time. Every year there are more intensive periods in which work dominates over other responsibilities, but I then compensate by having nice calmer periods.

What advice would you give someone thinking about a career in science?

Pursue your interests without giving too much consideration to where it will lead you to in the end. There are many turns and crossways along the way, select what most stimulates you and do the best you can, excel! You will be happy along the way and will end up doing something you like.