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Renata Soukand
Biology and Ecology

Let’s talk about you: what is your background, what do you teach, and what are your research interests?
I was born and raised in Estonia by a Ukrainian mother. I teach cultural biodiversity and ethnobotany. I am interested in relationships between humans and plants, especially from a cultural point of view. I work in different cultural environments, using plants to translate folk wisdom into the language of science. I speak five languages and believe that I myself am an example of cultural biodiversity. I teach students to recognise the value of diversity, often referring to my own on-site experience.

What were your greatest professional satisfactions?
In research, my greatest satisfaction comes when people, during an interview, realise the importance of their own environmental awareness. I see winning the ERC grant as an acknowledgement of the importance not only of my work but also of ethnobotany as a discipline. In teaching, I feel very proud when students write to me that they have learned to appreciate diversity, even within the classroom.

What is the aspect of your research you are most passionate about?
The link between plants and people in traditional cultures but also in the modern world. We might think that it does not exist in cities where there are only a few plants around, but something in human nature has not yet forgotten this link.

What do teaching and researching mean to you?
Every meeting is an exchange of ideas, visions, emotions. This is why I cannot imagine myself without fieldwork: all the different people I have met on my ethnobotanical journey have made me who I am. The same goes for teaching: students bring freshness, new ideas and hope, even in these dark times.

Can you offer any advice to researchers in the early stages of their career?
Find your way, your passion, don't be afraid to make mistakes and ask yourself the right questions. Once you've found your way, carry on despite the difficulties, it's part of life. And always, even in the most trying times, try to find the fire that we all have inside us and that lights up the path you have chosen.

Last update: 14/02/2024