Reflections from our Leverhulme Wildfires Summer Conference bursary recipients – Aline Naawa and Naftal Kariuki

Reflections from our Leverhulme Wildfires Summer Conference bursary recipients – Aline Naawa and Naftal Kariuki

For our Leverhulme Wildfires Summer Conference 2023, we offered two fully-funded bursaries for PhD or MSc students from countries with low-middle income economies, to visit London for one week –  to  present a poster at our conference, and also give a talk at FiredUp2023, a student-led conference which was also held at Imperial on the same week.

These bursaries were awarded to Aline Naawa from Ghana and Naftal Kariuki, from Kenya, who have shared their experiences of the conferences below.

Thank you to you both for your presence at our conference and for sharing your reflections with us here!

Aline Mwintome Naawa

My Leverhulme Wildfires Summer Conference 2023 Experience!

“Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star.” ~ W. Clement Stone    

Inspired by the above quote, I have submitted several abstracts to participate in conferences just as it is the desire of every PhD student, to get the opportunity of presenting an abstract or paper for an academic conference. Some responded positively but with no funding, and most of it went into thin air, and when I least expected it, I hit a Star!

I’m a second-year Ph.D. student at the University of Lome, under the WASCAL scholarship program studying climate change and disaster risk management. I am currently working on the wildfire effects on ecosystem services in the Savannah ecological zone of Ghana under a changing climate. As part of the Ph.D. requirements, one is to attend at least one or two conferences; present a poster abstract or a paper during the program duration. This year, I set a goal to present at least one of my four objectives at an academic conference to gain knowledge, get critical comments on my work, build confidence as a researcher, and network with people of similar mindsets to master the domain I chose to work on. So, I took the plunge.

I registered and sent in an application for a bursary (for early career researchers from developing countries) to attend and submit a poster abstract for the Leverhulme Wildfires Summer Conference 2023 organized by the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment, and Society held at the Imperial College, London. When Dr. Adriana Ford reached out to me to inform me to start making preparations for my visa and also work on my poster for the abstract which has been accepted, I was extremely excited but nervous at the same time because I thought people might ask me a question that I do not know the answer to but overall, I was delighted by the fact that all expenses are to be taking care off and, this was the first big international academic conference I would be attending, the first conference poster abstract I would be presenting, and the first time in the United Kingdom, London!!!

The two-day program which started with a film screening on wildfires offered an opportunity to network and make new acquaintances to look out for the following day. The conference day itself created opportunities to meet with and interact with researchers in my field who offered very constructive criticism of my work which I was pleased about.

One of the reasons for my interest in this conference was to learn and adopt different wildfire models for my work.  I can confidently say I have an entirely new dimension I would like to explore with regard to what I’m working on. I also met Dr Juli Pausus (!!), a researcher whose work I’ve read extensively and cited in parts of my work. This was life-changing and could never happen if not for the Leverhulme Wildfires Conference 2023.

Aline Naawa at the Leverhulme Wildfires Summer Conference 2023

In addition, I also made new friends which I intend to keep for a lifetime. The conference also created an opportunity for me to participate in FiredUp2023 where I presented my work to other students working on various aspects of wildfires. Aside from the academic purpose of this conference, I also got to spend an amazing time in the UK (London) and explore the historical places (Buckingham Palace, Windsor, and of course London Eye!). The conference also provided me the opportunity to visit Edinburgh in Scotland where I had so much fun.

At time of writing this, it’s been two weeks now since I returned from the conference, I am still in awe of the experience and can confidently say, that attending this conference was a lifetime experience and the adrenaline will not wane soon. When the opportunity presents itself again, I would not hesitate to grasp it. However, I will like to explore new opportunities through the connections that I established during the conference and see if there are possibilities for future collaborations within the wildfire domain. I also expect to appear at another academic conference as an author of a published article in the near future.

To conclude, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires and Environment (Dr. Adriana Ford) for providing financial support and allowing me to share my research with other academics at the conference, as well as to share my reflections on the conference experience with fellow doctoral students in this blog space.

Aline conducting her fieldwork

Naftal Gicheru Kariuki

Exploring Wildfires and Connecting Globally: My Journey to London Conferences

Hello, readers! I’m Naftal Gicheru Kariuki, a PhD student from the Zoological Department at Kenyatta University, Kenya. My current research is centred around developing a holistic community-based approach to wildfire mitigation and management in the Tsavo ecosystem of Kenya. This ambitious goal involves understanding the interplay between human livelihoods and wildfires, investigating the correlation between wildfires and climatic patterns, and identifying gaps in the existing wildfire management strategies within the Tsavo Conservation area.

My research journey led me to two incredible conferences in London this July: the Leverhulme Wildfires Summer Conference on the 25th and the FiredUp 2023 PhD Conference from the 27th to 28th both held at the prestigious Imperial College London. These events marked not only my first time visiting the UK but also an opportunity to immerse myself in the global discourse on fire management and learn from esteemed researchers worldwide.

The Leverhulme Wildfires Summer Conference  2023 was a marvellously organized event. The pre-conference wildfire film screening on the 24th set the tone, engaging participants and priming our minds for the discussions ahead. The inclusion of research posters, presentations, and a captivating wildfire photography competition added a dynamic flair to the conference, making it even more enriching.

One of my profound interactions during the conference was with Professor Sally Archibald from South Africa. Our conversation unveiled a fascinating fact: certain bird species require a burnt forest environment for breeding and camouflage. This insight underscored the importance of incorporating prescribed burning into wildlife and wildfire management strategies. It’s a revelation that holds great significance for Kenya, where prescribed burning is currently prohibited.

At the FireUP2023 PhD Conference, I seized the opportunity to present my own research to my peers while delving into the projects of fellow PhD students from around the globe. What made this conference even more remarkable was its organization entirely by students from various UK universities. This model of student-led conference organization is something I’m eager to replicate in different parts of the world. In fact, I’ve already taken steps to initiate a postgraduate club at Garissa University, where I teach. This club will provide a platform for sharing research findings and field experiences, fostering a culture of collaboration and growth.

My experiences at these conferences have significantly enriched my professional network. I’ve made new friends and connections that are invaluable assets to my research career. Among these connections are Aline Naawa from Ghana, Sally and Angel from South Africa, and Rajendra Kumar Patel from the UK. Additionally, reuniting with old colleagues, Abi Croker and Amos Chege, who were part of our Tsavo team collecting data in 2022, felt like a homecoming. It’s almost poetic that our team evolved from “Tsavo team” to “Tsavo-London team” in July 2023, embodying our global collaboration.

Naftal Kariuki from Kenyatta University, Kenya and Co-Researcher Abi Croker From Imperial Collee London. A field Photograph taken at Mwakitau area of Taita Taveta County, Kenya

A highlight of my trip was visiting the Imperial College London, where I met Dr. Adriana Ford, the manager of the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires. The Centre’s generosity granted me the opportunity to attend these conferences, an experience for which I’m immensely grateful.

In conclusion, my journey to the London conferences has been transformative. Not only did I expand my knowledge and understanding of fire management concepts, but I also formed lasting connections and friendships with individuals from diverse corners of the world. As I put pen to paper and share my experiences, I’m excited to recount my interactions, discoveries, and the profound impact this trip had on my research journey.

Stay tuned for more updates and insights as I continue my pursuit of a sustainable and integrated approach to wildfire management in the Tsavo ecosystem, Kenya.

With warmth and enthusiasm, Naftal Kariuki.