Alumni

Alumni profile - Paul Eguia

Beside my job as a Sustainable Sourcing Strategy Manager, my partner Eva and I have just bought a farm for our agroecosystem. As conservationists, we felt that the best contribution we could bring to biodiversity conservation was to help the mentality shift for land use and food production. This project was only made possible by our scientific approach and education.

(Plant and Fungal Taxonomy, Diversity and Conservation MSc, 2018). 

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Why did you choose to study MSc Plant and Fungal Taxonomy, Diversity and Conservation at Queen Mary? 

Before applying for the Plants and Fungi Taxonomy, Diversity and Conservation MSc at Queen Mary, I graduated as a Kew Diploma student in 2016. Three of my fellow graduates and I created a company with the aim to meet people doing conservation in the field and inform others about their initiatives, successes and issues. We travelled through South-America for three months from one project to the next. When we came back, I felt the need to deepen my knowledge and increase my credibility on the subjects of biodiversity conservation and ecosystems restoration. Having been part of Kew for 3 three years, I already knew about their partnership with Queen Mary for this MSc and of two students that had previously been accepted with their Kew Diploma as an undergrade equivalent. The opportunity to work with Kew’s collections and experts again was too great, so I decided to apply.

What do you find most fascinating about biodiversity conservation and sustainability?

As far as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by living things and the diversity of shapes and behaviors that they display, where each organism is a piece fitting perfectly in the amazing puzzle that is biodiversity. When you understand this, you cannot help but become concerned about the speed at which these pieces are being lost, because the more species and habitats that go missing, the less stable the global ecosystem becomes, and our species is also part of the Earth ecosystem. Aside from the loss of evolutionary beauty which has been crafted over millions of years and destroyed in a few decades only, biodiversity loss has become a major threat to the very survival of those responsible for it. To me, biodiversity conservation and sustainability are an absolute priority if humanity hopes to thrive on this planet for as long as possible. In my opinion, working to reduce our lives footprints on the environment is the single most important thing that everyone should do at whatever scale it is possible for them.

What did you enjoy most about studying this degree?

Meeting new people from different cultures with different focuses was part of the richness of this course. Letting some of their passions and ideas sink into mine and hoping that I could help them shape theirs was a great and humbling honour for me. I was very pleased to see that some had come from so far across the world for this particular course and to have the opportunity to grow as a person amongst them all.

Were there any academics or fellow students that had a strong influence on shaping your time and studies here?

Some of the people I met during this course deeply influenced my approach to science in general, and in biodiversity conservation in particular. Many of my fellow students have also taught me a lot in different ways and I feel very lucky to have met them all. As for the teaching staff, Dr Yannick Wrum and Dr Pepijn Kooij forever changed the way I look at ants, Dr Laura Martinez-Suz and Dr Tuula Niskanen convinced me that fungi are an underexplored world of wonders, Dr Robert Knell drilled into my brain the importance of a well-designed experiment and significantly interpreted and analysed data, and Pr Andrew Leitch inspired me as one of the best examples of passion and dedication to science that I will ever encounter.

Can you describe your career path to date and touch on your current role as Sustainable Sourcing Strategy Manager at SILAB?

After I graduated from the MSc in 2018, I went back to working in the company we created after the Kew Diploma, and two of us went on one mission to Kenya where we visited one of my MSc fellow students and followed him in his work for the National Museums of Kenya. Following that, I moved back to France to start an agroecology project with my partner and worked as an independent consultant in sustainable sourcing. In 2020 I got offered a full-time job by SILAB as their Sustainable Sourcing Strategy Manager.

To me, biodiversity conservation and sustainability are an absolute priority if humanity hopes to thrive on this planet for as long as possible. In my opinion, working to reduce our lives footprints on the environment is the single most important thing that everyone should do at whatever scale it is possible for them.

What are some of your daily responsibilities in this role and how does this job allow you to explore your passions?

SILAB manufactures active ingredients from more than a hundred natural raw materials for the cosmetics industry. In compliance with SILAB’s interests and objectives, my job is to propose a realistic strategy to ensure that the raw materials we use are sourced with the greatest respect possible for the people producing them and the environment they live in. This involves managing the integration and implementation of the strategy by supporting the sourcing and purchase teams on sustainability aspects. Daily, I meet with relevant teams to monitor and adjust our practices and keep in contact with our partners to assist them in achieving our common goals.

The main reason I am passionate about my job is that it allows me to apply my personal values and principles to a scale that can have a bigger positive impact.

Which aspects of your degree are relevant to your current role?

Through my education at Kew and Queen Mary, I learnt a lot about bio-trade international agreements and regulations, threats to ecosystems and individual species, obstacles for biodiversity conservation and habitat restauration, and monitoring of activity impact. This gave me an overview of the interconnections between all of these subjects that I can apply to my work to provide realistic and relevant suggestions.

Outside of your career, in 2018 you and your partner moved to France to start an agroecosystem producing vegetables, fruits, honey, goat cheese and eggs. Please tell me more about this; how has your degree played a role in the evolution of this agroecosystem and what are your plans for it going forwards?

Beside my job, my partner Eva and I have just bought a farm for our agroecosystem. As conservationists, we felt that the best contribution we could bring to biodiversity conservation was to help the mentality shift for land use and food production. Today, the biggest fastest threat to biodiversity is the way we humans occupy and exploit the landscape to produce our food. Eva and I had the privilege to work amongst some of the world authorities in plant and fungi conservation, and we thought that the best contribution we could make to support the findings and recommendations of those outstanding researchers was to make an example and take it to the field. Our aim is to monitor the activity impact of an economically viable agroecosystem on local biodiversity. This project was only made possible by our scientific approach and education. Our hope is to generate useful data over the years, but the journey has only just started…

My job is to propose a realistic strategy to ensure that the raw materials we use are sourced with the greatest respect possible for the people producing them and the environment they live in. My job allows me to apply my personal values and principles to a scale that can have a bigger positive impact.

What was special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments?

Many memories of my time as an MSc student have shaped me as a person. However, if I had to pick two, I would choose:

  • The field trip to Madagascar, which was an unbelievable opportunity to experience field work with world renowned experts.
  • The day I presented my dissertation at the Linnean society in Burlington House, in front of my loved ones and my peers, at the very place where the theory of evolution was first presented to the scientific community a year before the publication of one of the most famous books ever written: “On the origin of species”.

Lastly, what advice would you give to a prospective student considering studying MSc Plant and Fungal Taxonomy, Diversity and Conservation at Queen Mary?

If I had one piece of advice to give to a student starting the Plants and Fungi Taxonomy, Diversity and conservation MSc course, it would be to enjoy every moment of it. Take the time to realise where you are and the people you’re surrounded by. Find the moments to explore Kew Gardens and the unbelievable collections you have the privilege to interact with. Speak to the Horticulturists and Researchers whom you meet and absorb some of their passion and knowledge. Have a drink at The Botanist and debate about what conservation should be. To me, all of those things are at the core of what made biodiversity conservation worth studying at Queen Mary and Kew.

This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Officer, Nicole Brownfield. If you would like to get in touch with Paul or engage him in your work, please contact Nicole at n.brownfield@qmul.ac.uk.