Meet… Danielle Latreche

I saw the PhD call for CONDJUST on Twitter (X) in January 2022. Less than a year later I am sat in Barcelona writing my first blog post. I had been told to look out for potential PhD opportunities on Twitter, but I still wasn’t expecting a tweet to have quite such a big impact on my life. 

My journey to a PhD, much like that of many others, has not been straight forward. I started on this journey in 2014 when I began my undergraduate degree in Anthropology at UCL. I had not been planning to study social sciences. In fact, I had spent a most of my childhood dreaming about becoming a zookeeper or a vet. During the summer before applying to university, I had spent hours researching different Biology courses up and down the UK. 

However, as the application deadline approached I was starting to feel uneasy. Having immersed myself mostly in natural sciences and maths for best part of the last 5 or 6 years, I began to sense that something was missing. I found that whenever I faced a topic or problem that couldn’t be measured or answered in moles or meters, I felt lost. I began to look for a subject which could help me address this gap in my knowledge and stumbled across Anthropology. I had never heard of anthropology before – neither had any of my family or friends – but as a discipline it seemed to ask some interesting questions and I felt like it was a good opportunity to explore the world around me through a different lens. So, I took a leap of faith and switched from natural sciences to social sciences. 

I completed my undergraduate degree in 2018 and spent the next year working in London before eventually moving up to Edinburgh to study a masters in International Development. It was here that I began to engage with the literature around conservation social science and explore the intersection of conservation and development issues. Although I did not realise it at the time, this may have been my way of combing my childhood fascination with animals and the natural world with my more recent shift toward studying human cultures and societies.

I finished my masters in September 2020 during the middle of the COVID pandemic and spent much of the next few months in lockdown looking for work. Whilst I was not sure exactly what I wanted to do with my career I knew I was interested in research and policy roles, which helped narrow down my job search. After many months of applications I was offered a job working for a large market research company in their new social intelligence analytics team. Again, this had not been part of my plan – I knew little about the world of market research or social intelligence – but the role sounded interesting and challenging so I decided to take another leap. 

Social intelligence refers to the process of gathering, analysing, and interpreting data from social media platforms and other online sources to gain insights into human behaviour, social trends, and  consumer sentiment. It relies on using a mixture of human and artificial intelligence to collect and make sense of vast amounts of digital information. It is still a relatively new, exciting industry which is being driven by rapidly evolving technologies and ever changing client needs and expectations.

I spent just over two years working in social intelligence and it was a whirlwind experience.  My job as an insights professional was to help clients make sense of their data and use it to answer key business questions, however, I found that for me, my role was raising as many questions as it was helping to answer. Seemingly subtle changes to the structure of boolean queries – the language used to filter and retrieve posts on social platforms – could have significant impacts on the nature of the data we collected. The impact of these decisions was often hard to predict and could often only be made clear though extensive experimentation. The decisions made about how data sets were structured also shaped the questions we are able to ask. For example, choosing to categorise and analyse data by sentiment focused attention on the emotional extremes of online discourse, potentially overlooking the richness and diversity found within more “neutral” conversations. How then do we navigate and make sense of all these choices which are so often hidden from view?

 We are living in what has been described as the golden age of data. Data, Big Data and data sets are everywhere and everyone seems to want more of them. But there are important questions we still need to ask about how these huge volumes of data are actually being used? What does it really mean to make a “data-driven decision”? Within the context of conservation prioritisation how are all the diverse forms of conservation data that are being produced actually being used to shape policy and practice? 

The CONDJUST project combines my interests in conservation, people and data. I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to explore these questions and work in these issues amongst such great team of fellow researchers.