MSc graduate Dr Rachel Graham founded and directs the non-governmental organisation MarAlliance, working to secure a future for large marine wildlife in collaboration with fishers and coastal communities.
|Name||Rachel T Graham, PhD|
MSc Environmental Protection and Management
|Year of Graduation||1994|
Your time at the University
This may sound ever so cliché but it was after running up to the top of Arthur’s Seat one morning and listening to someone playing Amazing Grace on the bagpipes at the edge of the cliffs (really, it happened) that I realised how perfectly I was where I needed to be at that time in life.
I had chosen Edinburgh for many reasons: great reputation, interesting course, and heck it’s in Scotland and I’m part Scottish. But one reason stood out: the exhortation of Dr George Gibson, Forester Emeritus, that Edinburgh was where I should be for my masters.
I was long-term volunteering on a UK/Honduran government forestry project in Honduras when he came to conduct a supervisory site visit and strongly recommended I apply to Edinburgh as he felt it would be a good fit. Additional research and more testimonials from others convinced me to submit my application. George and his wife Lucy very kindly rented their annex to me, so along with much time spent with their lovely small children, I ended up with a ready-made family during my stay.
My MSc course colleagues were fantastic. So geographically diverse with a median age of late 20s early 30s. Several became and remain close friends, and still work in our chosen sector. Our teachers were dynamic, curious, engaging, supportive and challenged us constantly. I look back very fondly on my magical year at Edinburgh. It seemed like so many planets aligned for so many of us that made for an incredible experience, the making of life-long friends and colleagues, and the creation of a robust springboard from which to launch into a new chapter of our lives.
Your experiences since leaving the University
After completing my Edinburgh MSc and the associated terrestrially-based thesis on Ethnoecology of Beni Bolivia’s Forests, the Red Sea beckoned. I worked as a divemaster for months before accepting an offer to work with the United Nations in New York as an Environmental Program Officer.
Being a field-oriented person, I moved to Guatemala to work with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as the Environment Program Officer. It was a magical time of great hope when the peace accord was being signed with the Guerrilla and so much work was needed to support environmental and community-based programs. But after a few years, the sea’s siren song mesmerized once more.
In 1998, I jumped at the opportunity to work in a broad trinational scientific project based in Belize. The discoveries made under the waves set me on the path I am today, of scientific discoveries while working with coastal communities and fishers on the conservation of large marine wildlife and promoting greater efficacy of marine protected areas and regulations.
After moving to Belize, I started and completed a mostly field-based PhD while running a UK Darwin Initiative project, expanded my work to a host of other species and countries, had my first child prior to doctoral submission and defense, and built and ran a boutique B&B (unfortunately our sector does not make much so I had to find ways of supplementing pay).
Evidently a masochist and needing more challenges, I took the international shark and ray program I had created by 2004 to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and then had another child.
My team and I left WCS after I founded the non-governmental organization (NGO) MarAlliance in 2014 to continue on the same programmatic path but to be better positioned at the frontline of conservation and management-driven research. I started with three people in 2014. We are now 35 and are based in four countries. Amongst others, the project management and participatory rural appraisal skills I learnt at Edinburgh during my MSc have helped me in my career path since I left and are definitely helping me now as I lead our growing NGO MarAlliance to secure a future for large marine wildlife in collaboration with fishers and coastal communities.
[...] I founded the non-governmental organization (NGO) MarAlliance in 2014 to [...] be better positioned at the frontline of conservation and management-driven research. I started with three people in 2014. We are now 35 and are based in four countries.
Feed your curiosity. It will lead you forward through good and bad times. Let it take you on a wondrous quest and prompt you to question. All other things will fall into place: skills, volunteering, qualifications, jobs, personal life, how to put together that Ikea shelfing unit… It can be your solid core and superpower for adaptation in what is now a rapidly changing world.
Oh, and I also hold dear the words of the legendary Australian golfer Greg Norman aka The Shark: “Bite off more than you can chew, and then chew like hell.”
MarAlliance (external site)
MSc Environmental Protection & Management