Emiel de Lange
Improving environmental interventions by understanding social networks
This PhD was hosted in the School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, in partnership with the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford.
The PhD exceeded my expectations in terms of the positive impacts it has had on my career. I never thought I would learn so much, meet so many wonderful colleagues, and work on such fulfilling and positive projects.
What was your research about?
My thesis examined the role of social networks, the relations between people in a community, in social and behavioural change for conservation. I collaborated with the Wildlife Conservation Society in Cambodia to understand the wildlife poisoning behaviours of local farmers and designed interventions to reduce poisoning. I explored how farmer’s social relations shaped their knowledge and response to these interventions and tested possible ways of improving interventions using this knowledge.
What made you apply to the E3 DTP?
A friend of mine sent me the PhD advert while I was doing fieldwork for my masters. I was really enjoying the work I was doing at the time, although it was challenging because my undergraduate had been in a different discipline, so many of the methods and theories I was using were new. I had already decided that I wanted to work in conservation and felt that this new perspective was very valuable in the sector and represented a space that would grow in importance in the future. I felt that the one-year master’s course was only scratching the surface, and I wanted to continue developing my career in this direction and gain further skills and expertise in the field.
The PhD that was advertised seemed perfect for me because it gave me that possibility and was connected with two supervisors that I knew personally to be excellent mentors. It was also serendipitous because the proposed project was to take place in Cambodia, which is where I was already working, and it allowed me to continue building on the networks I had there.
What did you find challenging in your PhD?
I’m not sure that anyone really knows what they are letting themselves in for when they start a PhD – it is difficult to foresee all of the challenges, opportunities, and other surprises that happen over 4 years. But, the PhD exceeded my expectations in terms of the positive impacts it has had on my career. I never thought I would learn so much, meet so many wonderful colleagues, and work on such fulfilling and positive projects. I very much enjoyed the opportunity to explore different topics, and work on projects outside of my main PhD work as well.
Of course there were challenges. I had a lot of challenging fieldwork, some of the logistics and budgeting were stressful, and I was dealing with difficult weather conditions and tropical diseases. To complete my thesis I had to learn several new modelling techniques, and because of the pandemic – the training courses were not available to me, which meant I was teaching myself.
Looking back, what would you have done differently?
Things worked out well in the end, and I am very happy with what I have produced over the past four years, so it is difficult to say what should have been done differently. Perhaps I would suggest that for fieldwork-intensive projects, it is a good idea to explore grants and other funding options to supplement your DTP funds as early as possible. This can give you some peace of mind and make it easier to plan ahead for the whole 4 years. I would also have thought ahead a bit more about the specific techniques and tools I would have to use to analyse my data, before starting data-collection, and deepening my understanding of these. If I had done so, I might have made different choices when planning my fieldwork studies.
I greatly enjoyed the university environment. I had a warm and supportive office where I made great friends who always stimulated me to think about things in new ways and had my back when work got stressful.
Which aspects of your PhD did you enjoy the most?
- The opportunity to develop and carry out my own research from start to finish. I very much enjoyed the early phases, reading the literature, being creative and discussing ideas. Four years later it is quite something to look back on and you can be proud of what you’ve achieved.
- Fieldwork is full of learning moments and beautiful experiences; from seeing positive research impacts on the ground, experiencing very different lives in rural areas and making friends, mentoring Cambodian students.
- I greatly enjoyed the university environment. I had a warm and supportive office where I made great friends who always stimulated me to think about things in new ways and had my back when work got stressful.
- I loved the opportunity to travel and participate in conferences and workshops. It was great to meet peers from all over the world, to put our heads together and contribute to shared projects and passions.
- My research informed the design of a real intervention, a social marketing campaign, implemented by the Wildlife Conservation Society and their government partners. I facilitated a three-day design workshop with their staff. A year later, it gave me a great sense of fulfilment to see the campaign being rolled out, with beautifully-designed materials and videos.
- I was awarded an Early Career grant from the National Geographic Society. It was wonderful to be recognised in this way and to receive such generous funding. Joining the Nat Geo community was also a great way to access a community of inspiring people and participate in their training, culminating in a presentation at their Explorer Spotlight event in Munich.
- Although I was not around for much longer to see it, I was involved in setting up the Environment & Society Student forum, a monthly meet up and virtual community of post-grads working on environment-society relations at Edinburgh. This was a warm and supportive space for us to share our challenges, and I’m heartened to see it still thriving.
- When I finished my fieldwork I organised an event in the village to share my results. I did this entirely in the Khmer language. The feedback was really positive.
- Student travel award to attend the Society for Conservation Biology Asia conference
- Presentations at the International Congress of Conservation Biology, Forests & Livelihoods (FLARE) conference,
- Five publications in the course of the PhD, with a further 4 currently in review.
- Lots of outreach with government, communities, and NGOs in Cambodia!
- 6 fieldwork campaigns
Which skills did you gain during your PhD?
- Network analysis & modelling using SIENA
- Improved programming in R and data management
- Qualitative data analysis
- Questionnaire design, interview techniques, group discussion facilitation
- Social marketing skills
- Improved time management skills
- Budgeting and project management
- Managing teams and mentoring students, in cross-cultural settings
- Khmer language
- Collaborating with diverse stakeholders
- Driving a motorbike
- Public speaking and storytelling
What would not have been possible without the DTP?
The entire PhD would not have been possible without the DTP. The stipend provided and tuition fees enabled me to take four years to do the PhD. Research funding provided also allowed me to conduct 3 fieldwork campaigns and travel to two conferences, as well as numerous workshops and smaller meetings. The DTP also provided in-house training on various topics, such as during the residential at Dryburgh.
How has your PhD helped you to decide on a career path?
I had decided on my broad career path prior to starting my PhD – and the PhD confirmed my interest in this path. The collaborations and projects I built during my PhD have helped me better understand the specific kinds of jobs available on this path, and also look more critically at my sector. The networks I have developed during the PhD are going to guide my future career.
The collaborations and projects I built during my PhD have helped me better understand the specific kinds of jobs available on this path, and also look more critically at my sector.
My collaborators at WCS Cambodia and Sansam Mlup Prey are keen to continue working with me and have arranged funds to contract me as a consultant for one year to conduct a research project. This is being funded by USAID. The intention is to create a more stable position for me. This will enable me to continue bringing my research perspectives to the questions they are grappling with in their landscapes.