Building the first global picture of 'protected area' effectiveness

Dr Nathalie Pettorelli is a Research Fellow at the Zoological Society of London. Dr Pettorelli was awarded a L’Oréal-UNESCO fellowship for her research into how effective protected areas are in conserving the world's major ecosystems. Monitoring protected areas is vital to ensuring ecosystems continue to provide clean water, wild food and genetic materials to societies. Protected areas also mitigate the impacts of climate change through carbon capture storage and act as a buffer against natural disasters. Nathalie's innovative research will build the first global picture of protected area effectiveness. The fellowship will help Nathalie to carry out satellite data extraction and analysis as well as undertaking collaborative visits to space agencies such as NASA.

Why did you choose a career in science?

As far as I can remember, I have always enjoyed travelling, writing, learning new skills, and meeting new people from different backgrounds. I was pretty much interested by everything at school – from economics, to languages, history and science. I never liked to be told what to think, and wanted a job I wasn’t going to get bored of; a job that builds on my interests. A career in ecology ticked all these boxes, while allowing me to do what I like doing the most: explore.

Have you come across any challenges being a woman in science?

Being a scientist isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of tenacity and hard work to secure a permanent job in academia. It takes even more tenacity and hard work to do this as a woman. My main challenge has been, and still is, to find ways to successfully combine my personal and professional lives: I believe the current system makes achieving this goal particularly difficult for women in science in the long term. My second endeavour is to successfully challenge pre-conceived ideas about what women in science can achieve, such as the belief that the lack of female scientists in top positions is a consequence of their inaptitude of dealing with high levels of stress and responsibilities. I will never know how these ideas have affected, or will affect, my own career progression, but I am deeply aware that they are there.

What do you hope to achieve in your career?

I hope to always stay as enthusiastic about my job as I am right now. I work in conservation biology because I care about human wellbeing and passing on a biodiverse planet to the next generations: I hope I’ll always produce research that helps develop solutions to conserve biodiversity and ensure a sustainable future in the face of environmental change. I also hope to help raise a new generation of scientists, who are specialists in being generalists, able to easily work at the interface between scientific disciplines.

How has the For Women in Science Fellowships helped your career?

Receiving the For Women in Science fellowship was a massive confidence boost, in a world where praise and encouragement is extremely rare. The fellowship allowed me to develop new ideas and set-up my team; the award increased my visibility and gave me the confidence to approach a publisher with my book proposal and to get this book published. It also allowed me to embark, together with Dr Seirian Sumner, on the Soapbox Science (see adventure. We had this simple idea – putting fantastic examples of female scientists onto the streets of London, on soapboxes, to show that you do not need a beard to be a brilliant physicist, an exciting engineer, or an inspirational biologist.

Summer 2014 will be our fourth event in London, and we hope the first year we’ll manage to get Soapbox Science events outside London.  

Follow Dr Nathalie Pettorelli on Twitter @Pettorelli

For Women in Science

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