Manuela Gonzalez-Suarez is a Spanish ecologist who recently became a lecturer at the University of Reading. Her research is largely motivated by her concern about the current widespread loss of biodiversity. In the hopes to prevent future extinctions she studies ways to identify the most vulnerable species and the most damaging threats. Meet Manuela in Reading, where she’ll be talking about “The problems of having a big brain and other things that increase extinction risk”
SS: Manuel, how did you get to your current position?
MGS: The short answer: with perseverance and being flexible on where I live and work. The long answer is that I completed my undergraduate degree at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid in Spain (the country where I was born). I then moved to the USA where I got my Master’s at Binghamton University (New York State) and later my PhD at Arizona State University. After completing my PhD in 2008 I returned to Europe, where I first had a 1-year postdoctoral position in Paris, which was followed by two different fellowships adding to 5 years in Seville (Spain). Finally, last year in May I was interviewed at the University of Reading and offered the job which I now have: Lecturer in Ecological Modelling.
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
MGS: My mum often tells the story of how I came home from primary school one day rather preoccupied because I was unsure what to answer to the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. Apparently, I could not make up my mind about whether I wanted to study plants or animals! I think biology was just my “destiny”.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?
MGS: I love learning new things every day. Things that I read or hear from colleagues, or those that I discover myself. Although I am not a statistician, I actually enjoy conducting statistical analyses to extract answers from data; I feel like a detective searching for clues to solve a mystery.
The ideal is when I manage to combine this computer time with going out into the field and collecting the data myself; seeing the animals and ecosystems that I want to understand better and then getting back to my office and exploring the data to find some answers is just the perfect combo.
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?
MGS: I believe that scientists need to communicate their research findings and their passion for science to society. If we want people to value science and encourage young people to do science, we need to let them see how wonderful and fun it is. Soapbox Science provides an opportunity to do just that with an added bonus. The role of women in science is greatly undervalued, and not just by men, women have biases too! So for me being part of Soapbox Science was really was a golden opportunity to not only share my passion for science but also let people see that we (women) can do it too!
SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?
*if you do not know this word google “Mary Poppins” and find out.
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?
MGS: I would like to see a more holistic appreciation of success. I feel that today there is too much emphasis on being the best, and not just in science. We always want novel and amazing findings; people want to be stars in movies or in science. However, completing a puzzle, like understanding nature, requires putting small pieces together. Each of those pieces may not be that amazing in itself but it is still important to get the whole picture. One can do great, solid science without ever making the news or getting a Nobel Prize (or Nature paper). On the other hand, searching for stardom may encourage people to do apparently amazing but unsubstantiated science, things that make the news but do little to help us complete the puzzle.
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?
MGS: Work hard, love what you do, and have fun doing it! (Which is, by the way, the same recommendation I would give to a male PhD student.)