Introducing our new Director of Science & Policy  - Earthwatch
image collage showing Sasha Woods at different stages in her science career with Earthwatch

Introducing our new Director of Science & Policy 

Our newly-appointed Director of Science & Policy, Dr Sasha Woods, reflects on her journey through the wonderful world of science, achieving this new milestone in her career, and the research projects she is most excited about at Earthwatch.

Powered by science

Science is at the heart of what we do at Earthwatch Europe. As an Independent Research Organisation, we work alongside world-class scientists with expert knowledge on a range of environmental issues. From water pollution and sustainable agriculture to biodiversity and nature-based solutions – our Science Team is particularly interested in exploring the power or citizen science. How can we actively involve non-scientists in scientific research? Our Tiny Forest and FreshWater Watch programmes are two examples of how citizen science can give people of all ages and backgrounds the tools to become part of vital research and take positive action for our planet.

This month, we are thrilled to announce that our former Senior Researcher, Dr Sasha Woods, has been promoted to Director of Science & Policy at Earthwatch. She takes the (science) baton from Dr Toos van Noordwijk, who continues her career in the environmental sector in the Netherlands.

A toast to Toos – our former Director of Science & Policy

It was with great sadness that the Earthwatch Team said goodbye to Toos van Noordwijk earlier this year. Toos established our Earthwatch office in the Netherlands, and led our Science Team with great enthusiasm, encouraging transnational collaboration and creating space for new ideas. After eight years in which she has had a fantastic impact on the direction and growth of Earthwatch, we are excited to see Toos become the CEO of Wij.land, a collaboration of nature-friendly farmers in the Netherlands.

Toos’ successor, Sasha, will build on this fantastic legacy.

At a glance

Sasha Woods is Earthwatch’s Director of Science & Policy. Despite a background focused on human biology, Sasha moved into socio-environmental science in response to the climate and biodiversity challenges. She now uses her investigative and analytical skills to forward citizen science. Sasha coordinates Earthwatch’s efforts in More4Nature, leading a work package supporting the 20 pioneer cases including two FreshWater Watch cases, one in Sierra Leone and one in Italy.

Congratulations, Sasha! Tell us how your fascination with science started.

Thank you! If you asked my brother, he’d tell you I’ve always been a science nerd. My uncle often recalls the story of how, as a three-year-old, I stepped on a berry, and then demanded to know every fact about berries he could think of. I think I ruined fruit compote for him for life! Growing up, I was obsessed with digging up rocks and looking for fossils. I had a rock-polisher and an impressive collection of dinosaur magazines. At school, I wanted to be a vet, then a conservationist, a marine biologist, any kind of scientist really. I liked knowing how things worked – DNA replication, cardiovascular systems, water cycles – so it made sense to follow a career path where I could keep asking “why”. I guess you could say my brother’s right about me.

Sasha’s treasured rock collection

Sasha during her early career in molecular biology

What made you apply for your first role with Earthwatch? 

I had spent a decade studying the development and disorders of the eye and brain. And, if I’m honest, I needed a change. Don’t get me wrong, the work was still interesting. I was still learning a lot and felt like I was contributing to a greater understanding of the topic. But it was no longer making me happy. I wanted to do something bigger, something with more impact, something more environmental. I didn’t have years of experience within natural sciences, so I knew this would be a little bit of a step down more than a side step. But I also knew that a change in career would make me happy. I looked for roles where some of my skills might be transferrable and came across Earthwatch’s citizen-science research. I applied for the job of Researcher for Impact and Innovation, and I’ve never looked back!

What have been your proudest moments and biggest achievements with the Earthwatch Innovation Team to date?

I’ve had a fantastic four years with Innovation, with lots of memorable moments… The launch of the MICS platform for measuring the impact of citizen science projects. Kicking-off the ProBleu project, which aims to promote ocean and freshwater literacy across school communities. And the single week we won funding for three new European projects: CROPS, which supports the transition of citizen science from small-scale to a Europe-wide level. CircleUp, which aims to reduce the amount of household waste produced by working closely with over 100 households to design and test different circular-economy actions. And More4Nature, which aims to trigger transformative change in conservation efforts regarding zero pollution, biodiversity protection and deforestation prevention by including citizens and communities as key actors in policy promotion, monitoring and enforcement.

Sasha testing water with the FreshWater Watch toolkit as part of the MICS project

The data that our citizen scientists collect has the potential to make a real impact on how we manage our cities, waters and rural areas. I’m excited to contribute to making that happen!

Sasha Woods, Director of Science & Policy at Earthwatch

What are you most excited about regarding your new role as Director of Science & Policy?

At Earthwatch we have expertise across biodiversity and nature in cities, freshwater, farming with nature – including soil health – and the science of citizen science. I’m looking forward to advancing our science across these focus areas, and better aligning it to the needs of decision-makers, so that we can exert a positive influence over policy. The data that our citizen scientists collect has the potential to make a real impact on how we manage our cities, waters and rural areas. I’m excited to contribute to making that happen.

Any top tips for young people considering a career in science?

At school, make sure you’re selecting some science subjects. You might not like them all, but you need a solid foundation in some of these topics to progress in a scientific career. When I went to university, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to focus on long-term, so I chose Natural Sciences, which allowed me to keep my studies fairly broad. Be open minded; a science career doesn’t have to be in a lab coat, or in a muddy field. You might end up in scientific communication or sales.

Outside of the classroom, there are plenty of ways to get involved in scientific activities. You can contact local organisations in your area and ask if they might be able to offer you some work experience. And you can volunteer as a citizen scientist with Earthwatch.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to fail. There’s a science meme which says “If at first you don’t succeed, try two more times so that your failure is statistically significant.” And despite being terribly unfunny, it’s actually pretty true. You’ve got to be ready to make mistakes, to keep trying, to question hypotheses, yourself and others, and to change your mind – or, like me, your career path – based on your findings.

It’s International Women’s Day this month – who are the women in science that have inspired you the most?

Great question – because there are so many to choose from! I guess from my molecular biology days I’d have to say Rosalind Franklin, who contributed to the discovery of DNA. Environmental scientists, including Michelle Jackson at Oxford University, inspired me to change career path. And citizen science experts Dilek Fraisl and Jessie Oliver provided the inspiration to develop within my researcher role at Earthwatch.

Of course, I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with so many inspirational women across Europe and globally through our Innovation projects: Uta Wehn (social scientist), Janice Ansine (education expert), Katerina Zourou (citizen engagement and empowerment expert), to name just a few. And then there are all the female scientists at Earthwatch who inspire me daily, and who I’m really looking forward to working with more in my new role.

Website by AgencyForGood

Copyright 2024. All Rights Reserved

Skip to content