Emma McKinley is a Ser Cymru Research Fellow based at Cardiff University – she moved to Cardiff in June 2016, having been at the University of Chichester for 5 years. Her work is part of a large research project called RESILCOAST, which is funded by the NRN-LCEE, and involves working with other researchers from Bangor and Swansea Universities, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Natural Resources Wales and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. The project team investigates many aspects of salt marsh ecology and management to understand how they can be managed more effectively, in the long term, to ensure they can cope with increased pressures from changing climates and human activity. For example, salt marshes might be affected by coastal erosion or sea level rise. Our homes, infrastructure and well-being rely on salt marshes being healthy, in the face of rapid changes to society and climate. Through RESILCOAST, the team researches coastal protection and other benefits to people, focusing on salt marshes. They study how responsive and adaptive marshes are to change and examine how this is supported by coastal management and policy. Emma’s Soapbox Science talk will showcase some of this work, and will include a hands-on demonstration of how salt marshes protect our valuable coastal areas that everyone can get involved in. Catch Emma on her soapbox on the 10th of June in Cardiff, where she’ll be talking about saltmarshes
SS: Emma, how did you get to your current position?
EMK: I started off as a marine biologist, having been fascinated by the sea from a really young age (despite spending my early years in a desert!). I spent a short amount of time working as a researcher on a conservation project in Thailand; my experience there started me thinking that if I really wanted to make a difference to our incredible marine environments, it wasn’t just about understanding the habitats and species, it was also important to understand how people see, use, and feel about the sea. What influences their behaviour to the sea? Why is it ‘out of sight, out of mind’? Is this even true? And if it is, how do we help people, of all ages and backgrounds, to see the beauty, and value, of our global seas and coasts? Since my PhD at Bournemouth University, I’ve worked on projects that cross disciplines, and really think about the relationships between society and our seas and coasts. I’ve been at Cardiff since June 2016, and I’m working on a project that lets me be both a natural scientist, as well as a social scientist – perfect for me!
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
EMK: I don’t really remember anything different! Seeing dolphins at a very early age…and I was hooked, wanting to be a marine scientist, without really knowing what that meant! My mum has always been interested in nature and the environment, and that has definitely influenced me.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?
EMK: Understanding how people interact with their natural environments, and seeing how this can be used to help to manage and protect the natural world. It’s fascinating to see how differently people connect with the world around them, and how this might impact their views on what or how something should be protected or managed.
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?
EMK: It’s an opportunity to show off the exciting and unusual aspects of the projects we work on, in a fun way, perhaps reaching out to audiences that might not come across it otherwise.
SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?
EMK: We need to be better at talking to each other, and to people who don’t work within science. That’s why events like this are so important. Yes, science can be complicated, but that doesn’t mean everyone can’t understand it – it’s all about how we talk about it, and how we engage people, of all ages, in science. When you think about how important science is to life today, you start to see how amazing it really is!
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?
EMK: You absolutely can do it! Work hard, dream and think big. It can be challenging sometimes, and life will continue to throw you curve balls, but, keep going – it is rewarding and exciting work, and totally worth it!