From Forestry to PhD

This being my first ever post, I thought it would be appropriate to share the (abridged) story of where I come from.

I started my PhD almost a year ago (how time flies!) and every day I ask myself – “Why on earth did I quit my job to do a PhD??!”. There’re many of reasons I suppose. I wanted a new challenge, I wanted to learn new skills, I wanted to stop doing long distance with my partner….In fact I don’t regret making the decision at all, but I have to admit, my job pre-PhD was pretty sweet.

That job was “Forester“. I got there by studying a double degree in Forestry and Science (Botany) from 2003-2007 at the University of Melbourne. It is a somewhat controversial job I suppose. I quite often wouldn’t disclose my profession to strangers in public, and certainly not in the pub over a few beers in Fitzroy for fear of being howled down (which did happen quite regularly if the topic arose). The reason for this is because as a Forester, working for VicForests, my job was to supervise the harvest and haul of timber (predominantly Eucalyptus regnans and E. delegatensis) from native forests of the Central Highlands region. Shock, horror, gasp! How could someone who really cares about the environment, biodiversity, forests, ever do a job such as this??! Simple really…

As a forester, I deeply believe that our forests are the most beautiful, renewable resource we have; and, when managed appropriately within a system of reserves and general management zones, we can achieve positive biodiversity and utilisation objectives. Plus, I reckon timber is a beautiful and much more environmentally sound product than steel or concrete. That’s not to say I agree with everything that goes on in the forestry sector, or that I don’t think there is room for improvement. With an increasingly urbanised (read: disconnected from nature) society, general understanding and values around forest management are changing and, in many ways, forestry has failed to roll with the times. Foresters are prone to reminisce about the “good ol’ days” and lament that as a profession, they are misunderstood and have fallen out of favour with the broader public.

However, regardless of the controversy, it really was a great job. I was challenged daily. Whether it be identifying Leadbeater’s Possum habitat, supervising logging contractors, marking out rainforest reserves, resolving conflict (with contractors and protestors), undertaking coupe burns, four wheel driving, planning operations, auditing operations, auditing environmental performance or scrambling up hills through walls of correa and wire grass, there was rarely a dull moment. Although we are often made out to be the bad guys within environmental circles, I can honestly say that the team I worked in was composed of passionate, conscientious people who did our best to protect soil, water and biodiversity values within the coupes we supervised.

But, now I am here and (at the risk of sounding overly romantic) ready to grow and learn through a related passion. That is the passion for good science. Science that will help land managers do right by the environment. I could have chosen a PhD in the ash forests of the Victorian Central Highlands (plenty of interesting and important work to do there…!), but some work experience I did about 5 years ago really peaked my interest in northern Australia and its environmental challenges. So the opportunity to immerse myself in this once more was too good to refuse!

I still consider myself (and probably always will) a forester, but now it is time to give the ecologist within time to grow.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment