Student case studies
Meet two of our postgraduate students, from previous student intakes, who share their experiences.
Kennedy Wambua Matheka
Kennedy was awarded a scholarship to study at Kew, he outlines how this has helped his research and enabled him to share his knowledge at the East African Herbarium.
As a research assistant at the East African Herbarium (EA) in Kenya, I knew I wanted to study more taxonomy to improve my plant identification skills. Kew staff were here working at EA on the Afromontane Plant Conservation Project (the East African mountains are part of a biodiversity hotspot) and they suggested I apply for the Kew/QMUL Masters course. Besides the plant taxonomy, the MSc also appealed to me because it covered fungal taxonomy and conservation studies.
It was only possible for me to travel abroad and complete this MSc because I was awarded a B.A. Krukoff Fellowship in Systematics. This bursary, administered by The Bentham-Moxon Trust, meant all my tuition fees and living costs were covered whilst I was in London.
I already knew a certain amount about working in an herbarium before my MSc but I learnt more about handling collections through hands-on experience and interacting with Kew experts. To meet some Kew East African plant collectors and authors of some of the botanical literature we use regularly at EA was very gratifying.
After completing my MSc, I returned to EA where I am now a research scientist. This means being able to take up a lead role in research projects and collaborating with other local and international researchers. For example, during October to December 2018, I undertook 34 days of fieldwork in three different projects documenting plant life along the waterways of the Upper Tana River catchment area, Ngong hills, Mt. Kulal, Loita Hills and the coastal Sacred forests.
The knowledge and support I gained as a student at Kew now help me, in turn, train botany students that come to EA on three-month placements. I teach them specimen collection and herbarium techniques such as pressing, drying, identification and curation. So, I’m helping to ensure there will always be people here trained to describe new plants and help with their conservation in this biodiversity hotspot.
Intake September 2017 - September 2018
Yannick explains how the MSc was a stepping stone from a broad-based BSc to botanical research for a PhD.
I’m from The Netherlands where I did my first degree in Chemistry and Biology. Afterwards I looked for a degree where I could specialise in botany to pursue my interest in plant evolution. Kew Gardens was familiar to me from TV documentaries and I found out about the MSc on the website.
One of the most valuable experiences for me was interacting with lots of different teaching staff, many of whom career botanists with in-depth knowledge. I particularly enjoyed the taxonomy of flowering plants - something my previous studies had not covered. Teaching staff from both Kew and QMUL are very good at enthusing students about botany – it is an understudied branch of biology and needs more researchers!
Kew itself is an inspiring place to study, whether exploring the diversity of plants in the gardens or in the herbarium. Not only could I look at living tropical plants, but I learnt to identify them too.
The fieldtrip to Madagascar trip was memorable, travelling around with local botanists who showed us first-hand how areas of deforestation had led to soil erosion and listening to them recalling what the area was like before. It was above all inspiring to see their passion for botany and their endless knowledge of the local plants. Madagascar has more than 12,000 plant species and they knew most of them.
My research project on the evolution of flowers gave me the chance to be part of a research group for six months. There I met a colleague who later became my PhD supervisor at Kew. I’m now researching the genomics of aloes, developing tools for their identification and using them as a model group to study the evolution of succulence in plants. So I’m still to be found looking at tropical plants in the garden, herbarium and in the laboratory.
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