In May, Deirdre Collins was named the recipient of the prestigious Bermuda Rhodes Scholarship award. Collins will use the scholarship in September to pursue a graduate degree in environmental change and management at the University of Oxford, located in England.
She plans to pursue a career working to progress energy policy and investment toward advancing clean energy markets, employing net-zero carbon energy technologies, and achieving lower emissions worldwide.
Collins, 22, was born and raised in Bermuda and attended the Bermuda High School until 2009, when she transferred to St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire. In 2013 she graduated summa cum laude and with distinctions in science and humanities. She went on to attend Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where she graduated in 2017 with an undergraduate degree in biology and a minor in French.
While a senior at Georgetown, Collins began thinking about how to gain practical experience in ecology and climate science—two topics she developed a passion for in college.
Collins’s undergraduate thesis research focused on the relationship between biology and environmental change. In the summer of 2016 she spent two months conducting glaciological and ecological research on the Juneau ice field in southeast Alaska. Her work, which focused on alpine algae and the soil microbiota of newly exposed rocky outcroppings on the ice field resulted in a poster presentation at the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, California, a large international earth and space science conference attended by thousands of scientists and university-level students.
Growing up in Bermuda, Collins recalls hearing about “fascinating work by researchers at BIOS.” This, combined with her interest in how ecosystems function and respond to climate change, led her in spring 2017 to apply for a spot in the Bermuda Program working with Samantha de Putron, a marine biologist and ecologist at BIOS who researches mechanisms of coral reef resilience.
“Working on a coral reef health monitoring survey in Castle Harbor for the de Putron Lab was a natural progression of my interest in ecology,” Collins said. “It allowed me to develop an in-depth understanding of how physical changes in the oceanic environment impact fish and algae populations on Bermuda’s coral reefs.”
As her mentor, de Putron was impressed by her dedication, describing Collins as “within the top five percent of interns” that she’s mentored in her lab. After seeing first-hand Collins’s passion for science, research, and the environment, as well as discussing her future career plans and aspirations, de Putron supported Collins with a recommendation for her Rhodes Scholarship application. In her letter, she wrote that Collins “will be an excellent scholarship recipient [who would] fully utilize the experience and benefit greatly from it.”
Established in 1902 by the will of Cecil John Rhodes, a British financier and statesmen, the Rhodes Scholarship is intended to bring students from around the world to study at the University of Oxford to improve international understanding. Each year, 98 students from 23 regions—including Bermuda, the United States, West Africa, China, and Saudi Arabia, among others—are awarded full scholarships and personal stipends to pursue advanced degrees at Oxford.
Combined with her academic achievements in environmental science and biology, Collins also has recent experience in energy finance from working as an analyst at the New York Green Bank—a state-sponsored investment fund that works to advance renewable energy markets. Given this background, the Oxford masters (MPhil) program in environmental change and management will provide the interdisciplinary approach that Collins feels is needed to help to address issues of global climate change mitigation.
“I hope to work at the intersection of investment, environmental politics and the more technical and scientific side of the industry,” Collins said of her award. “I want to contribute to the technological advancement and investment in climate change mitigation technologies that allow humans, in some way, to erase the damage we’ve already done.”