Post provided by Samniqueka Halsey

Black History Month is a UK-wide celebration that takes place every October, acknowledging and raising awareness of the contribution that Black African and Caribbean communities have made in Britain and across the globe. We are excited to promote and profile the work of Black ecologists and evolutionary biologists across the British Ecological Society blogs.

Dr. Halsey in the field measuring dune thistles.

My name is Dr. Samniqueka Halsey, and I am a computational ecologist. I use modelling and statistics to answer questions about the way the world works. In particular, I try to inform management actions about disease emergence and conservation with my models. I have worked on projects regarding Lyme disease, Chronic Wasting Disease and a dune thistle that is threatened by habitat fragmentation. I realized that I genuinely wanted to become an ecologist starting in my junior year of college when I took an ecology course. This class exposed me to the joys of fieldwork, going outside, and collecting data. Combined with a few more courses such as aquatic ecology where I could go out to streams and lakes to collect water samples and then go back to the lab to analyze, it was fascinating. I was even able to be a field technician in Arizona, where I helped to trap prairie dogs to collect blood and ectoparasites to test for the plague.

Do you have any experiences you’d like to share about being a Black ecologist?

I have had both positive and negative experiences as a Black ecologist, and I am lucky that the good has outweighed the bad. At the beginning of my career as an undergraduate and even a Master’s student, things were hard because I was rarely given the benefit of the doubt. My lack of experience in the field was a disadvantage even though I was exactly where I should have been given my age and experience level. I watched those with less experience than I did receive rewards and honors, which made me wonder what I was doing wrong. Over time, I fought for opportunities to gain experience, took extra classes to gain hard skills such as GIS (geographic information systems), and volunteered at the local nature and field museum. All while I was working full time to provide myself with housing and food. It was hard, and I do not regret any of the things I have accomplished. While my path might have been tough, I can open doors for other black and brown aspiring ecologists because of my accomplishments.

Dr. Halsey in the field conducting tick drags in Missouri, USA.

What would you like to see change in the field of ecology for the better?  

Dr. Halsey with an eastern cottontail, sampling for ticks.

For the field of ecology and academia to change for the better, we need greater diversity. We need for the ecologists and professors to represent the demographics of our community at large truly. It is not enough to have only one black or brown person in a department or college. We genuinely need representation of all races, ethnicities, genders, sexualities etc. Only then can we begin to answer the questions that truly matter to us as humans. Wildlife and the environment are inextricably linked; not having representations from all cultures means that we miss out on valuable knowledge and solutions that will genuinely make the world a better, healthier, and safer place. 

The advice I would give to other students/early career Black researchers is to be authentically you. Always.

I want to shout out to Nyeema Harris, a wildlife ecologist who studies apex and meso carnivores worldwide. Check out some of her research here and follow her on twitter at @drnyc_awe.

For more posts acknowledging and celebrating Black ecologists, visit the British Ecological Society’s Black History Month page here.