Biomedical Sciences

Marcello Hernández-Blanco: Following the dream

Marcello, from Costa Rica, shares how the Masters programme helped him to achieve his dreams, and opened up new opportunities, including a PhD in Australia.

What motivates you?

I was lucky to be born in Costa Rica, one of the most biodiverse countries on Earth. My parents took me to the beach quite often, and every time I went, I was amazed by the ocean and wondered at what was below that incredible world.

One time, we went to a beach in the Pacific that is the main nesting site of the Leatherback turtle, the largest sea turtle on Earth. Being there, in the night, everything dark except the red light of the naturalist guide, as the turtle emerged from that mysterious underwater world, was the defining moment in my life. It is imprinted forever in my mind and heart with wonder and a love for nature.

Why this programme?

This formative experience led me to study biology, but strangely enough, in the middle of the programme I switched to industrial engineering, one of the most opposite careers I could have found to my childhood passion. Although I found it interesting, I felt something important was missing in my professional and academic life, and I knew exactly what that was. I enrolled on a professional master’s degree in environmental management, which is a programme that is less focused on theory and more on implementation. I felt I was in the right place.

What opportunities have helped shape where you are now?

I did well in this environmental management programme because one of my teachers recruited me as an Environmental Consultant at an important NGO that works on environmental issues all over Latin America. This was a great place to combine my industrial engineering background with what I had just learnt in my masters. I spent three years advising companies in many parts of America on how to improve their environmental performance.

Nevertheless, I again felt something was missing, and I realised I wanted to get a more in-depth understanding of biodiversity related issues, especially those that had to do with how we benefit from healthy ecosystems for our well being. I needed a programme from a highly respected institution, where I could continue working alongside my academic training, and that’s how I found this MSc programme.

Where did life take you after the MSc?

In my final year of the programme, by luck, I found that a big congress on ecosystem services was going to happen in Costa Rica, and strangely enough was going to be one block from my house. I attended of course, and during the second day I found out that Robert Costanza, the father of ecological economics and one of the scientists that I admired the most, was there. I ran to my house, printed his most famous paper, and asked him to sign it (perhaps one of my nerdiest moments of my life).

Later, during the congress, I got an opportunity to talk to him briefly about the thesis I was working on at university on blue carbon. He invited me to be his PhD student at The Australian National University, I couldn’t believe it. One year later, I was writing my first paper while looking at kangaroos from the window of my house.

What does the future look like for you?

After two years of completing my PhD, I still collaborate constantly with Bob on different research projects. Perhaps one of the most relevant is working with the United Nations in redesigning the current Payment for Ecosystem Services of Costa Rica. 

Dreams come true, we just need to follow them. And I keep following many.