Monica Engel

I am a biologist from Unisinos University in Brazil. I came to Memorial for the first time in 2013 to pursue my MSc. degree in geography. My previous research experiences involved the human dimensions of sea lions and a marine protected area in southern Brazil, and the relationship between people and jaguars and pumas in the Brazilian Atlantic forest. After two years away from the island, I am back to Memorial as a Ph.D. student investigating the relationship between people and the sea. I consider myself a social science conservationist and hope that through my work I can contribute to the long-term conservation of biodiversity.

How and why did you decide to attend Memorial for your graduate degree?

I decided to attend Memorial for my master’s degree after meeting Dr. Alistair Bath at a human dimensions conference in Colorado back in 2012. I was in my last year as an undergraduate and after presenting the findings of my research on human dimensions of sea lions, Dr. Bath offered me the opportunity to be part of his team. Without hesitation, I accepted the opportunity not only to join the human dimensions research lab, but also to expand my horizons and skills in the Department of Geography. I think Memorial is a great university that provides space and opportunities for students to learn, explore, and turn ideas into actions - that is the main reason why I decided to come back and pursue a Ph.D. program with Dr. Bath and the HD team again.

What drew you to explore geography originally?

I believe that what drew me to explore geography is the well established recognition that humans are part of nature, and as such their (our) actions and decisions affect the environment around us.

Can you tell us a bit about your current research?

The overarching goal of my research is to address the human dimensions of marine conservation, looking at individual and collective behavior toward the ocean and ways to communicate effectively about marine management and conservation. Given the current changes on oceans’ physical and biological characteristics (mainly due to anthropogenic activities), and the impacts of these changes on both social and ecological systems, further understanding of human-sea relationship is required to guarantee the sustainability of coastal communities and the ocean. Without a full understanding of individual and collective behaviors, efforts to conserve the marine biodiversity are likely to fail, as people ultimately hold responsibility for both the causes and solutions to environmental problems. Inspired by Jacques Cousteau’s belief that ‘people protect what they love, and love what they understand’, my research aim is to assess what people know, think, feel and do in respect to the marine environment.

A supervisor can be key to the success of any grad student. What does your supervisor Dr. Alistair Bath bring to his role as your advisor and mentor?

Dr. Alistair Bath has an incredible ability to communicate with others. As a mentor, he is constantly reminding me and other members of our research team that human dimensions work is about listening to people and working toward solutions. Through Dr. Bath’s expertise on wildlife related issues and public involvement, he provides valuable feedback on my research and how to best address sensitive questions and issues. More importantly, however, is that Dr. Bath trusts me and respects my point of view. He always encourages me to think big and not be afraid to try.

Have you attended any conferences/delivered any papers this year? Can you give details?

As a Ph.D. student, I haven’t had the chance yet to publish any paper related to my current research as I have just started my program. During my master’s program (2013-2015) here, however, I attended the Pathways to Success: Integrating Human Dimensions into Fish and Wildlife Management conference held in Colorado in 2014, and the 8th Brazilian Congress of Mastozoology in 2015.

On both occasions, I presented the results of my thesis on human dimensions of jaguars and pumas in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. In January 2016, Dr. Bath presented on my behalf further results of our research at the Pathways Conference in Kenya. Pathways is the leading conference on human dimensions research and my plan is to attend next year in Namibia. I also plan to present at the 5th International Marine Conservation Congress in July 2018. The findings of our research with big cats have been published in Human Dimensions of Wildlife Journal in 2016, Ambio early this year, and currently there is another paper in press in Wildlife Society Bulletin. Engel et al. (2016) assessed public acceptability of big cats and the factors that drive people’s tolerance for jaguars and pumas. Engel et al. (2017) looked at acceptability of killing big cats across different scenarios of people-big cat interactions and the influence of attitudes on acceptability of killing. The third paper focused on the role of factual knowledge about big cats on attitudes, fear and tolerance.

What do you like most about being a graduate student at Memorial?

I like the feeling of being welcome into a different country and culture. Memorial University is a great place for international students; it is vibrant and is full of amazing and interesting people. Once I was told that Ph.D. is about sacrifice; well, apart from being away from my family and (old) friends, I do not consider my life here to be a sacrifice. I believe Memorial is a great place to be, to learn and share, and that is why I came back.

What do you hope to do after completing your graduate degree?

I hope that at the end of this four-year period I can proudly say that I did my best to understand the relationship between people and the sea, and to contribute, at least a little, to the conservation of our oceans. Perhaps one day I become a professor, or write a book or two. I hope, in this sense, to continue my journey as a human dimensions researcher and practitioner.



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