Juan Manuel Valero Rodríguez: Humans of BioSciences

Meet Juan Manuel Valero Rodríguez, who recently submitted his PhD on the uses of freshwater and marine macroalgae as bioremediation agents. Now back in Spain, Juanma shares what it was like to complete a PhD, what he will do next, and what he will miss most about Melbourne.

JuanMa in lab
What was your PhD focused on?

My thesis focussed on the potential uses of freshwater and marine macroalgae as bioremediation agents. The reason is simple: coastal activities that involve the discharge of nutrients can result in deleterious environmental impacts, with harmful effects on marine biodiversity. That’s where I come in. The first part of the thesis delved on sampling and testing of production and competition of local freshwater species and their ability to remove nutrients from wastewater. The second part studied the link between nutrient discharges and drift algal production and the environmental costs and benefits of algal drift harvesting for nutrient management (including impact on associated communities).

The results showed that, overall, both freshwater and marine macroalgal biomass have remarkable potential to find economic outputs to their biomass production in temperate environments. At the end of my thesis I suggest that future studies should focus on achieving minimally stable biomass yields over time in the case of selected freshwater species and/or occasional harvest in the case of marine macroalgae. Depending on the location of nutrient discharge, and the ecological, logistical and spatio-temporal factors associated with the appearance of macroalgae, an independent assessment should be carried out to avoid losing possible beneficial effects that this biomass might provide at the ecosystem level. Such knowledge will be essential in developing an ecosystem-based approach to nutrient management in coastal marine environments.

My primary supervisors were Professor Tim Dempster and Professor Stephen Swearer, both Professors in Marine Biology in the School of BioSciences at the University of Melbourne.

What does your future hold, and what are you aiming to do next?

That’s a really good question. Pandemics aside, the truth is that I don’t know yet. I would like to experience how other labs work around the world. Gathering experience is crucial for my career. For the time being I am focused on publishing the rest of my manuscripts and making myself more competitive. The next step will be to apply for a post-doctoral position somewhere else in the world. My eventual target is to work in an organisation like CSIRO or the equivalent.

What was it like to complete your PhD at the University of Melbourne?

I won’t lie, completing my PhD was a tough road for me. Fortunately, however I was at a university where I consider students feel at home and supported, even when family and friends are more than 17000 km away.

Whilst it was a hard learning process, I grew valuable networks and met excellent professionals form JCU, Melbourne Museum, associates from the University of Melbourne and, of course, great comrades from both the REEF and SALTT research groups located in the School of BioSciences.

I couldn’t have completed my PhD without their advice, help and shared laughs throughout these four years. It was an absolute pleasure to meet each and every one of them. I deeply encourage the University to keep up this good work and continue to look after its most valuable assets: the students and academics.

What are your favourite memories of living in Melbourne?

I am back in Spain now and am missing Melbourne already. It doesn’t matter if I almost died more than once during fieldwork when I was collecting my samples (thunderstorms, blue ring octopi, you name it). Having a hot bowl of ramen on a winter night, enjoying a barbecue near the Yarra or simply looking at the pinkish autumn dawn makes you forget about such trifles. It is truly a great place to be.

'Humans of BioSciences' is a special new series to introduce the School of BioSciences' undergrad and postgrad students, our academics, professional staff and associates.