Having completed both a Bachelor’s and Master’s of Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo, Hameet Singh joined the team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers with various co-op and internship placement experiences behind her. One of these was with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), where she contributed to analyses of land and water resource issues in Northern Canada as well as projects related to Arctic marine environmental protection and engagement with Indigenous communities. While completing her Master’s degree, Hameet had the unique opportunity to work in a marine protected area (MPA) in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, Mexico. Here, she collected qualitative data while consulting with community members to determine how their involvement in marine governance could help combat against socio-ecological change.  

Hameet continued on with her interest in MPAs in the Knowledge Gatherer position at CPCIL, researching Canadian MPAs as well as economics in a parks and protected areas context. Here’s what she had to say about her experience.

What was it that first made you want to pursue a career path in the environmental field? 

In middle school one of my teachers showed us the Inconvenient Truth. I remember watching it, and it blew my mind that all of these issues were happening in the world, which were previously unknown to me. I think that was my first real exposure to environmental problems like climate change and biodiversity loss. Near this time, my family and I also drove from Toronto to Victoria and I remember that trip as significant because after seeing the different and changing natural landscapes of Canada first-hand, from Ontario to British Columbia, and visiting Jasper and Banff, I realized that I loved being outdoors and connecting to nature through parks. When I was in high school, I did a lot of volunteering with the Credit Valley Conservation Authority as part of the Ontario high school curriculum, and I really enjoyed that as well. We would get out and do conservation and stewardship activities such as tree planting, stream restoration and electro-fishing. These experiences came to solidify that I wanted to create a career in the environmental field. So this led me to complete my undergrad in Environment and Business at the University of Waterloo. The pairing of these two fields seemed like complete opposites, but I was drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of the programme and combined with co-op, I thought that it would be a practical choice.

My supervisor during my last internship with INAC in Ottawa became my first real mentor and introduced me to the idea of MPAs. Her work was related to marine conservation and land management, and she was also one of the people who greatly supported me in going back to get my Master’s, which is one of the best decisions of my so far short life. I got to dig more into the field work and research component side of things, which I hadn’t gotten with my undergrad. I was also lucky enough to travel, and in fact, most of the travelling I’ve ever done was while I did my Master’s – Mexico for my research, and Thailand to attend a conference. I was fortunate enough to do my research in a very picturesque and naturally pristine location that was rich in biodiversity. This is also where I acquired an interest in birding and learned a lot from the community members that I spoke with while in field. I greatly appreciated the mentorship and guidance that my academic supervisor provided, who had been one of my professors during undergrad. His advice and direction allowed me to complete a piece of research that I am very proud of. Completing my Master’s was challenging and lengthy, especially the fieldwork and data analysis components. But it was also very gratifying because it enabled me to dedicate uninterrupted time on a topic that I highly enjoyed and am passionate about. It also solidified the fact that I liked to do research and continuously learn, which is why I anticipate that I’ll be returning to academia in the near future to complete my PhD!

What changes have you noticed in yourself since starting your role with CPCIL?

When I first took the opportunity, I was very excited, because although I’ve done work in the environment field in the past, it was never conservation or parks and protected areas related, which is ideally the area that I want to be in. I was also looking forward to the research component because it was something that I highly enjoyed but hadn’t gotten the chance to do since graduating. The concept of CPCIL as a platform for park practitioners to collaborate and learn from one another was also was very intriguing. I also highly appreciated the opportunity to use my work at CPCIL to learn more about MPAs from a Canadian perspective, which I hadn’t really gotten a chance to do before. 

Before working at CPCIL, my view of parks was largely from a scientific and management point of view. I saw them as places reserved for their great ecological value, and for the public to come and enjoy. My grad work further broadened this perspective to include the social side in terms of community engagement and realize their economic potential through things like ecotourism and job creation. However, working at CPCIL revealed other facets of parks that I had never thought to consider before, such accessibility and inclusion. Learning about Don’s academic work, and the topics that the other Knowledge Gatherers were doing helped me to understand the multilayered nature of parks. During my professional and personal life, parks had always provided a medium for connecting to nature. At CPCIL, I realized how important it is for parks to create that space for all individuals, which I was surprised learn is not always the case. As a member of a visible minority, the fact that parks sometimes had barriers in recreation or career development for certain groups of people really struck home. It was not just about conserving biodiversity or having a place to recreate anymore, although that’s still very important. I think parks have a great potential to provide safe and welcoming spaces for all Canadians to create a connection with nature. When I think of the future of parks, it needs to reflect the diversity of Canada, and it’s not doing such a good job of that right now. Gaining that social perspective was very valuable for attaining something that was previously out of my scope. Learning through the webinars and the work that everyone else is doing as well helped me considerably in that process.

Do you think your time with CPCIL has altered your career or life path in any way?

Working with CPCIL has actually further solidified my aspiration to work in the conservation realm and protected areas, ideally in MPAs. I have really enjoyed my experience at CPCIL. I’ve had past internships and jobs in the environmental field, but this was the first parks and protected areas related experience. I see myself as either going down the career route, in government policy or private consulting related to protected areas or species at risk management; or completing my PhD and staying in academia to conduct research. My time with CPCIL has added more to the foundation of my career path that I want to continue and progress into conservation-related work. 

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