Moving Ecology: Dinesh Neupane

In this series we share the experiences of ‘globetrotters’ in ecological sciences, who have traveled all over the world during their research career. In this post, Dr Dinesh Neupane discusses with us his experience moving between Nepal and the United States for his Ph.D.

Where are you from originally, and where have you moved to during your academic career?

I am originally from Nepal, land of Mt. Everest. After having few years of experience after graduating with an M.S. in environmental Science from Nepal, I moved to the US for doctorate degree. I joined Arkansas State University, Jonesboro in the graduate program of Environmental Sciences.

What is your current position?

I am a Program Director at Resources Himalaya Foundation (RHF), a non-profit organization in Nepal. RHF was one of the eight recipients of the 2007 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions selected from several NGOs from six continents.

Why did you decide to move to another country?

Collecting a dung sample for a DNA study of elephants.
Collecting a dung sample for a DNA study of elephants.

After receiving my doctorate degree and gaining experience while working as a postdoc at the same university (Arkansas State), I decided to move to Nepal to contribute my knowledge and skills to foster wildlife conservation in the country.

What do you study?

I study wildlife, particularly large mammals. Broadly, my research interest is to study the human-dimension of wildlife conservation and habitat ecology. My Ph.D. was focused on the Asian elephant, while my M.S. research was on the One-horned Rhinoceros.

Were there unexpected differences in language or communication?

Yes, there are language differences as the native language in Nepal is Nepali, and people rarely talk in English in daily activities. So, studying and working in the American community was quite different. Even conservation priorities in Nepal and the US are different, as most of the people’s priority is growing subsistence food grain and they often rely on natural resources to fulfill their demand of firewood in rural Nepal.

How do research practices differ between countries you’ve lived in?

Research practices certainly differ in Nepal compared to the USA. Most of the research in Nepal are partly dedicated towards community engagement or people-centric conservation, as residents are coexisting with wildlife. Habitat encroachment and wildlife conflict are the major issues in Nepal. Limited funding opportunities, and administrative difficulties to conduct research in protected areas or in forests make the research work more difficult in Nepal.

Are there any differences regarding attitude towards science or research from the general public when you lived abroad?

Teaching local community members about wildlife monitoring techniques.

People in the US are more positive towards wildlife conservation, as they do not have as many problems with wildlife. But, people in Nepal experience conflict frequently in every corner of the country. Additionally, they have to rely on forests for firewood and other resources. That increases the probability of encounter with animals. People are subsistence farmer in the rural areas, and thus with a loss of their properties and crop, people have negative feelings towards wildlife, particularly problematic animals. About one quarter of their crop production is lost from wildlife depredation, and there are often human casualties from many wildlife including the Asian elephant, Bengal tiger, leopard, and snow leopard. Moreover, direct economic benefit of wildlife to people in rural areas is perceived as negligible.

What did you not realise would be different in the US?

At the time of moving to the US for my PhD, I did not realize the education system would be much more different there. We used to have an annual system of the education, instead of the semester system, and most of the courses were theoretical, based on the use of text-books in Nepal.

Were there any unexpected challenges associated with moving?

Yes, the challenges that came up while moving to the US were my visa, scholarships for study and adjusting to a different culture. Another unexpected challenge was to take samples from Nepal back to the US for the study.

What did you love about living abroad, either in research or otherwise?

I liked the friendly culture, education system, and support from the university staff to conduct research and study while I was in the US.

What did you miss about your ‘home’ country?

I missed family and mountains from my home country.

Do you have any advice for other researchers who are considering moving abroad for their career?

It would be great learning experience to go and study in the US. But, everyone should be prepared for the potential differences in the education system and also the culture of the place that you are planning to move. It would be also great if you are familiar with the issues in which you are interested to study.

Why did you move back? Where do you hope to be geographically in 5 years’ time?

I moved back to Nepal last year. In 5 years, I hope to work in any international organization in my field of expertise.

Read more posts from this series here. For more international perspectives, read our series on Getting Your PhD Around the World.

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