2023 Women of Discovery: Q&A with Zuzana Buřivalová

On October 12th, WINGS WorldQuest will induct five new Fellows during our 2023 Women of Discovery Awards Gala in New York City. In a special Q&A series, we are sharing a little bit about each honoree. DR. ZUZANA BUŘIVALOVÁ is a conservation scientist with a goal to find ways to equitably protect tropical forest biodiversity. An Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she is affiliated with the department of Forest & Wildlife Ecology, The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, and the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE). As Principal Investigator of the Sound Forest Lab, Zuzana leads a group of researchers using soundscapes – all the sounds that can be heard in a landscape – to understand the health of rainforests. The Sound Forest Lab collaborates with NGOs, governments and local communities to design research projects that can help on the ground. 

WINGS: Tell us your story. How did you get involved in science and your field specifically?

ZUZANA BUŘIVALOVÁ: I never thought I could be a scientist. I got a taste of science during my final project in my undergraduate degree at Oxford. I studied alpine vegetation in the Ukraine. During my masters, I got an opportunity to work in Madagascar, and this is what made me realize that I wanted to pursue a career in tropical forest conservation.

WINGS: What is something you would like people to understand about your work?

ZB: That a noisy, tangled, untidy forest is a healthy forest. A tidy row of the same trees is not a healthy forest. Let’s make sure that our forests are healthy!

WINGS: What are the greatest barriers to more women working in science?

ZB: One important barrier is the long-term, sometimes subtle messaging that society gives us throughout our lives. It’s messaging about what we should and shouldn’t do, can and cannot do, and how we should and shouldn’t behave. Societal norms are important, but I don’t think they should differ for men and women. Many people repeat these rules simply out of habit, and so it’s important to question them, ask if a particular recommendation, answer, or rule would apply if we were men as well.

WINGS: What gets you up in the morning? 

ZB: When in the rainforest, sunrise is enough! When in town, curiosity what the next day will bring.

WINGS: What’s your next challenge? 

ZB: Figuring out how we can make all the nature-based efforts to reduce climate change also good for biodiversity and people.

WINGS: Describe yourself in three words. 

ZB: happy in forest

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