Each week, SFRC highlights a fantastic student or alumnus for #FeaturedStudentFriday. Today’s student is Jazmín Gonzales Tovar, a PhD Candidate in Forest Resources and Conservation with a concentration in Geomatics.
What’s the best thing about your current position?
As a PhD student, all those opportunities to exchange ideas – and “senti-pensar” – with professors, students, practitioners, activists, farmers and indigenous leaders, around fascinating topics such as forests, sustainability, power and equity. I am in my last year of my PhD, and most of what I learned through this time came – directly or indirectly – from inspiring human beings that I met along my path, both among the UF academic community and among the community of people working locally in Brazil (where my PhD field work was).
Was there any key thing that set you on the path towards SFRC?
Even though I started my professional life working on general environmental issues, forests progressively became my main focus. Life took me to them. First, during my bachelor’s thesis, I had the opportunity to do research in the “selva alta” (high forest) in the Peruvian Amazon. More recently, I worked at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Lima, Peru. At CIFOR I heard wonderful things about UF – and specifically about SFRC, as many of my colleagues there are gators! Based on their descriptions, I immediately loved the international and inter-disciplinary profile of SFRC, which I knew would be a great fit with my interest in researching forests, governance, and equity around the world.
What drives you? Why is this important or significant to you personally?
My parents. My dad’s deep sadness when seeing a tree being cut down, a beautiful landscape being destroyed, “campesinos” facing hunger or communities being displaced from their lands. And my mom’s voice saying “never lose that capacity to feel indignant when you see something unfair”. So, I suppose it is a combination of indignation for social-environmental injustices, and the belief that we must try to do something about it.
What were your struggles to get where you are today?
Maybe not a “struggle” per se, but a challenge: constantly building self-confidence and strength to keep on growing personally and professionally. For example, during that crazy time when applying to UF and scholarships, I can still remember the overwhelming stress trying to make time for my job, while putting together my application, the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), the GRE, etc, in such a short time. Also, during field work, which is always a wonderful and enriching experience, there tend to be extra challenges for female researchers traveling alone. Sexism is still an issue around the world. And currently, I am trying to tell myself I can do this: writing, finishing, and graduating!
What advice would you give to a younger you?
Enjoy your work. Specially in times of stress, remember how passionate you are about your topic, remember that you love doing that kind of work. Then, everything, all your effort, makes sense.
Do you have any favorite memory of your time at SFRC?
I will mention two. One, when I met my advisor, Dr. Grenville Barnes, for the first time in person. He immediately made me feel very welcome and encouraged! And the other, during the SFRC class that took us to Mexico to see how communities in “ejidos” collectively manage their forests. It was such a lovely and fascinating experience.