Navigating Ecology as a First-Generation Student

Join our panel discussion about the challenges in making it as an early career first-generation ecologist, and advice for overcoming those challenges.

Are you one of the first in your family to go to university and pursuing a career in ecology? Do you mentor first-gen students but aren’t sure how to help them? Join our panel as we discuss potential challenges and advice for navigating ecology as a first-generation student.

In this event, we will talk to six ecologists who were the first in their family to go university and now work as PhD students, postdocs, and lecturers in ecology. We’ll discuss potential pitfalls and opportunities associated with being a first-gen ecologist at an undergraduate, postgraduate, and postdoctoral level; the best routes to gain work experience without spending a small fortune; advice on overcoming imposter syndrome; how to explain what an ecologist is to your family, and more! At the end there will also be a 45-minute slot to ask your own questions.

So, if you are first-gen, mentor or know someone who is, this is an excellent opportunity to start a conversation and begin to break down barriers to navigating ecology as a first-generation student!

Who’s this for? 

This event is for anyone who has or wants to have a career in ecology. The discussion will be based around challenges faced by- and advice for- first-generation ecologists but will be equally useful for those who want to better support their first-generation colleagues and mentees.

About the panel

The panel will talk about their challenges in making it as an early career first-generation ecologist and their advice for overcoming those challenges. Discussion will cover traditional career advice but also focus on more personal issues faced by first-gen ecologists, such as familial relationships and imposter syndrome. Our panelists are:

  • Roberto Salguero-Gomez was born in Seville and raised in Cadiz, Spain, where he did his BSc in Environmental Sciences. Academic opportunities that he actively pursued took him to carrying out his PhD in the US, two postdocs in Germany and Australia, and three independent research fellowships in Australia and the UK. This first-gen researcher is now an Associate Professor in Ecology at the Department of Biology at Oxford. His group uses demographic tools and theory to develop macro-ecological forecasts of population viability and resilience, examine the causes of senescence across the tree of life, and the link between functional traits and fitness, both across animals and plants.
  • April Burt finished school with B’s and C’s, moved out of home at 16, did a couple of A-levels in English and Drama alongside working at Tesco to pay the rent. After a year working in a bar she signed up to a science access course at Camborne College in Cornwall which enabled her to enrol for a BSc in Marine Biology at Bangor. She then spent a year working as a dive guide in the red sea, followed by stints of volunteering while working nights for Age concern. Eventually landing her first paid role in marine conservation, eight years of conservation management later she was successful in her application to join the NERC DTP at Oxford and has just handed in her thesis. April will be working with the Seychelles Islands Foundation and The Eden Project on several conservation projects.
  • Bruno Ghersi received his DVM from Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Peru. As a veterinary research Scientist at the US Naval Medical Research Unit 6 in Lima Peru, he led the Avian influenza surveillance program, and participated in multiple studies on rodent and bat zoonotic disease surveillance in urban and rural settings, as well as Swine flu surveillance and primate zoonotic disease epidemiology. Bruno came to the US to do a PhD in rodent ecology at Tulane University with Dr Blum and later transferred to University of Tennessee following his advisor, where he defended his dissertation in 2020. He finished a postdoctoral program at UC Davis looking at Lassa virus ecology in west Africa. and is now working at Tufts University looking at how to Stop the spillover of zoonotic diseases to humans.
  • Magda Grabowski grew up in a Polish American family in Colorado, USA and is a first-generation college graduate. Although she was always interested in the complexities of the natural world, it was not until late in her undergraduate studies that a professor told her people spent their professional lives studying, protecting, and restoring the natural world. She has been doing that ever since! Currently, Magda is a USDA-NIFA Postdoctoral Fellow studying the causes and consequences of plant invasions in Wyoming and California grasslands.
  • Rachel Hester is a PhD student at University College London and the Institute of Zoology studying the invasion history of alpine newts in the UK. From Dublin, Ireland, Rachel has recently moved to London to undertake her PhD. As a first-generation university student, Rachel entered Trinity College Dublin through an access programme, where she completed her undergraduate degree in Zoology. Rachel has previously worked on the Trinity College Inclusive Curriculum programme and is passionate about improving equality, diversity and inclusion within environmental science.
  • Rahim Dina was born in Seychelles before moving to England at age 6. Between odd jobs at Amazon and a pizza factory, Rahim completed his BSc in Biology at Sheffield Hallam University, during which he completed a placement year with the International Plant Names Index team at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. There, Rahim’s interest in plants and computational methods bloomed. He joined Imperial College London to complete his MSc in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation at Silwood Park. Rahim is now in the 1st year of a BBSRC funded PhD at Imperial with Dr Will Pearse. He is looking at which factors determine how plant communities are structured and incorporating plant functional trait data and phylogenetic relationships into community ecology.


Tickets are free for all BES members and £5 for non-members. The registration deadline is 21:00 (BST) Monday 9 May.


If you are interested in becoming a BES member to purchase the BES member-rate ticket, you can find out more information and join in the link below. Membership starts from £24, or you can get 12 months free membership if you are an undergraduate, master’s, or first-year PhD student studying for an ecology or ecology-related degree. For more information, click here.