Developing research to support decision making: My experience as EFI´s trainee

By: Fredy David Polo Villanueva

Jr. Researcher at the European Forest Institute (EFI)
Doctoral Candidate at the Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden)

Fredy Polo is a Peruvian forester and IFSA member who started his career managing forest plantations for restoration purposes in the Amazon and later worked in international research centres and the German development cooperation. Recently, while pursuing his master’s degree at the University of Göttingen, he took part in IFSA’s Dare to Explore! traineeship programme.

After studying forestry and working for 6 years in Latin America, I came to Germany with the objective to expand my knowledge in two fields: landscape restoration and forest policy. I want to work in the international context and especially at the interface of science and policymaking. However, I knew that, although I had worked in international institutions, I still had few networks and almost no experience outside my continent. In this context, I luckily got the opportunity to apply for a traineeship at the European Forest Institute (EFI). EFI’s vision is to be globally recognised as a leading science-policy platform providing forest-related knowledge to build a sustainable future. After going through a very competitive selection process, I was finally selected to work on the theme “Conceptualizing rewilding for forests” at EFI office in Bonn. However, my story is not a straight line, but full of ups and downs, so I thought you might find it interesting.

International Forest Governance Team in Bonn in 2019 (I am the one on the left)

First of all, I would like to tell you that even before I started, I had to do some homework. I had, for example, to move to a city I didn’t know, to find a place to sleep, and to arrange everything at my university in order to finish my thesis while I was doing my traineeship. Also, as a foreigner, I had to find out all the necessary legalities to be able to work and rent in Germany. Fortunately, I had a lot of support from my partner, friends in the city and the guidance of colleagues at EFI. On my first day of work, I received my introduction together with another colleague. We were shown all the administrative tasks we had to perform, as well as the physical and technological resources available for our work. I was also able to meet my office colleagues from Kenya and Germany, with whom I later had the opportunity to share happy moments. Unfortunately, my direct supervisor was not permanently based in Bonn but in Göttingen, where I had met him because he had also been a teacher in my master. Communication at a distance was the first challenge that we overcame through proactivity on my part, and the good routine practice of meeting on a weekly basis. In addition, since my traineeship consisted of conducting a literature review on the link between the concepts of rewilding and forestry in the scientific literature, the second challenge was to develop the conceptual framework and methodology I was going to use for my research. In this sense, after encountering several dead ends (as always happens in science), I was able to design a robust methodology thanks to the collaboration with an expert on the field from Bangor University in Wales, whom my supervisor put me in touch with. However, once I was finally moving forward, I encountered my third challenge: the deadline was approaching. Although I had a perfectly structured schedule at the beginning of my traineeship, the back and forth with the methodology had taken me almost half of the three months of my training. This last challenge was perhaps the most difficult as it required me to let go of my perfectionism and find solutions to it. After talking at length with my supervisor and reflecting on the process he was happy with my work and glad to decrease the number of products expected from me. This taught me a great lesson: “The process of doing science often involves failures and these failures are also part of our work”

Finally, I wanted to tell you how my life is now, one year after this experience. Well, the truth is, it’s pretty good. My supervisor was happy with me. My proactivity, my search for solutions, my way of cooperating with other researchers, and my frustration tolerance were perhaps my keys to success. Now Today I still work for EFI and I have been promoted to Jr researcher, I have recently finished a systematic literature review on another topic with very good feedback, and my former boss is now a professor and invited me to do a PhD with him (And I have a wonderful daughter!). It only remains for me to say that I hope you liked my story. If you want to know more about it (the Corona period) or just contact me, look me up on LinkedIn.

Greetings IFSA friends, I wish you all the best!