Q&A with Mark Burgman

What did you study?

Zoology, botany, plant ecology and finally ecological risk analysis.

If you were a plant, what species would you be and why?

An Acacia – they can survive almost anything, and yellow is my favourite colour.

Why do you work on environmental problems?

It always bothered me that farmland dominated the place I grew up in. I spent my childhood trying to find what I considered to be natural landscapes. And I love Eucalypts.

How did you come to contemplate decision analysis and why?

It was a natural extension of work leading from building models for threatened species, to estimating their parameters and structures.

What did your career pathway to where you are now look like?

Immediately post first degree, I worked for a mining company and then as a consultant in the mining industry, doing environmental impact assessments. It got a bit dull so I returned to do a PhD. I applied to SUNY Stonybrook where I studied with Jim Rohlf, and then met Lev Ginzburg, who introduced me to population viability analysis. From there, I did a Post-doc with Roger Arditi in Lausanne, then joined the University of Melbourne, where I stayed for 25 years. I moved to Imperial College 5 years ago.

What is the hardest career decision you have made, and would you change it if you could?

When to retire, and it hasn’t happened yet (quite).

What is your best piece of advice for an early career researcher in the environmental sphere?

Enjoy it – it’s the world’s best job.

If you had one wish, what environmental issue would you solve and why?

I’d turn everyone into vegetarians and create instant gender equity, because they would solve most other problems.