Shane Mc Guinness
Wow, thanks a million guys! Honoured to have taken part. The future of science is in very good hands with you guys!
St. Mary’s BNS, Rathfarnham, Dublin (1992-1998). Coláiste Éanna CBS, Rathfarnham, Dublin (1998-2004). Trinity College Dublin (2004-2009)
BA (mod) Natural Science – Zoology. MSc. Biodiversity and Conservation
Trinity College Dublin, London Zoo (The Zoological Society of London), National University of Rwanda
PhD candidate, in the School of Natural Sciences
Trinity College Dublin
Favourite thing to do in science: I love travelling to those areas of the world where conservation is most important. But involving local people in this is vital, because they’re the common factor in all the conservation challenges I research.
I work with some of the most endangered species on the planet and investigate how they can come into conflict with farming communities living near their habitats.
Where do I start…!
So, around the world endangered species (like Mountain Gorillas, Giant Pandas, Blue Whales) are coming into greater contact with human beings in the way we live, work and play. This is for several important reasons, but overall we want to use to same resources, like water, food and a space to live. This means that some of the most endangered places on the planet are also some of the most heavily populated by humans, because we need most of the same resources. It is kind of hard to tell in Europe or North America, as most of the species that used to live here have been removed long ago, in place of intensive agriculture and “anthropogenic” habitats (those areas created by humans and still heavily influenced by them). In tropical areas near the equator, areas not really affected by human still exist. Unfortunately, this also means that some of the poorest people on our planet are sharing the resources of these protected species.
My research looks at how these remaining endangered species of plants and animals of tropical areas come into contact with poor farmers. These are subsistence farmers, meaning they must grow the food that they need to survive. And with the large mammals species that I research (buffalo, gorillas, golden monkeys….) most of the food we eat, they eat too! Because these farmers must grow the crops so close to the rainforest, it is much easier for these animals to come out of their protected area (like a National Parks) and eat the crops of these poor farmers, than it is to stay in the forest and eat low-nutrient leaves, grass, fruit and bark. If I were a gorilla (ignoring the very hairy profiler…!) I’d much prefer some tasty fruit in farmer’s field than leaves and thistles (yep, gorillas eat thistle leaves!). But nobody has the right to tell these people to move away from the forests; they’re human too, just like us and have the right to live the way we do and have as many children as we have. It’s a tricky question, as I’ve discovered!
To try and find an answer to this, I spent over a year in a small country in central Africa with a very high population density and some very endangered species. This country, Rwanda, has been badly affected by its high population and resource pressure, which have led to wars and genocides in the past and are still causing problems in the country’s protected areas.
One of these, Volcanoes National Park (ever seen ‘Gorilla’s in the Mist’?- that’s it.) is home to the critically endangered Mountain Gorilla and the endangered Golden Monkey. But living on its edge are 1,000 people per square kilometre. That’s urban density but everybody is a subsistence farmer! Imagine people in Dublin city all trying to grow their own crops, without the problem of gorillas, buffalos and golden monkeys eating them…!
By talking to these people, and finding out what types of animals damage their crops, I got an idea of how bad the problem actually is. Then, by training them in how to use GPS locators (the exact same system you use on your phone to check-in on Facebook or geo-tag photos) I could tell where animals came out of the park and begin to think about why….
Want to know more? Well, you’ll have to ask me a question or come and chat to me! Hopefully you won’t be as bored as this guy….
My Typical Day
Though I’m now parked in front of a computer screen writing my PhD, my average day while on fieldwork in Rwanda was very different….
Though my current days are in front of a screen at the business end of a PhD (typing the report of what I did – >80,000 words!) the 12 months I spent in Rwanda were very different. They usually began with an early start (around 6am) and a long motorbike ride up dusty African tracks, to get to the rainforest edge before farmers began working in their fields. I’d then find somewhere to park the bike, find a kind shop-keeper to mind my helmet, and myself and my translator would take off towards the park. After several interviews and a lot of hiking up hilly potato fields (sometimes through torrential rain), the evening was then spent back in the house entering data on the laptop and preparing for the next day. This was usually underneath some of the most spectacular lightning storms I’ve ever seen.
What I'd do with the money
I would love to use the money to create a Schools’ Visit Programme for all PhD students, to bring science out of Universities and into the classrooms of those who can really make a difference – you guys!
Although the science we do in Universities is interesting to us, it’s not always that easy to communicate it to the general public, especially if your science involves a lot of very complicated language and maths. Because of this, most of you guys in schools have no ideas what we do as scientists and unfortunately I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here only comes around once a year! So, with the money that I hope to win from this competition I will set up a School Visits Programme for PhD students (that’s me!). Not only will you guys learn about what we do, beyond chatting to us on a computer screen, but the PhD students involved will improve their communication skills, making it much easier for us to do this in the future. And if we can inspire just a few of you to follow in our footsteps, it will have made all the difference!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Adventurous, Independent, Motivated
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Arcade Fire or Sigur Ros
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Camped on the side of an active volcano in the Congo
What did you want to be after you left school?
A pharmacist (and boy am I glad I followed science!)
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Yes! Detention for climbing out of a window that probably shouldn’t have been climbed out of… I’ve said too much.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Art, or History (believe it or not, I never did biology!)
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
I like to think I’ve made a difference to the lives of many farmers who have to deal with the western idea of conservation every day. They have a right to live just like the rest of us.
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
David Attenborough (for the nature), Michael Palin (for the travel!) and my science teacher who showed me that it’s possible.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
An archaeologist, if I made enough money to feed myself!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
A permanent job I’m truly happy in, unlimited carbon-free flights and a Tesla Roadster.
Tell us a joke.
Apparently the people of Dubai don’t like the Flintstones…. but the people of Abu-Dhabi Dooo!