Why is the understanding of our botanical heritage in B.C. so outdated and incomplete? Jamie's research works directly with government bodies to improve inefficiencies in the system by which information is incorporated into the provincial databases, and subsequently dispersed to the many user groups who rely on accurate information. 

Jeannette Whitton
UBC Public Scholars Award
Research Description

The British Columbia Conservation Data Centre (CDC) is a component of the B.C. Ministry of the Environment whose mandate is the tracking and monitoring of "at risk" species in the province of B.C. Due to a number of long-standing inefficiencies in the process by which new information is incorporated into this tracking system, however, our understanding of the structure of the province's botanical biodiversity has become increasingly outdated and incomplete. My research will work directly with the B.C. CDC to resolve these inefficiencies and devise a new protocol that can be used to both address unresolved backlog issues and streamline the incorporation of future data. This would improve the accuracy of the information that is so critical to various user groups, such as environmental groups, government decision-makers, conservationists, industry, and the interested public.


  • Jamie Fenneman: Enhancing Conservation by Streamlining the Science-to-action Pipeline
What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

My field of taxonomy is, among other things, largely about communication. This communication can be among academics and specialists one one hand, but - perhaps more importantly - is also between specialists and the public, whether they be conservation groups, government decision-makers, industry, or interested private citizens. Being a public scholar to me means embracing this latter element of my field, recognizing its importance, and striving to improve the relationship between the specialists and the public. The best taxonomy is that which is both scientifically accurate AND usable by the various groups that have a stake in the results, and being a public scholar is an important step for me in the latter direction.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

The PhD experience has traditionally been viewed as a pipeline to academia. However, the skills and knowledge attained through a PhD are now of considerable interest to many outside of academic settings, and it is exciting to see that the Public Scholars Initiative is taking a direct step in addressing this. With the changing face of technology and society, the PSI is looking forward to adapting to these changes and providing students and potential future employers with opportunities that may not have been as available traditionally.

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

My PhD work involves the collaboration of a diversity of individuals in the botanical community, including those in government, industry, museums/collections, academia, and the general public. The opportunity to work with such a diverse assemblage of talented botanists allows me to gain experience in many different aspects of the field of botany, as well as demonstrate my abilities in many different contexts.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

My research is specifically involves the participation of the BC provincial government - specifically, the Conservation Data Centre (CDC), whose mandate is the tracking and ranking of threatened and endangered species in British Columbia. This body acts as a major hub of botanical activity in the province, and efforts to work with this organization will be immediately reflected throughout the province's professional and amateur botanical community.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

By improving the quality of biodiversity information that is collated by the provincial government and subsequently dispersed to a wide variety of public interest groups, my research will address a critical need in the greater botanical community. As well, the improved accuracy of the information will be of considerable benefit to the many "at-risk" species that are tracked and monitored by the government, and whose continued existence often relies directly on the quality of information that is in the hands of decision-makers.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I had previously worked as an environmental consultant and field biologist, and felt that pursuing graduate studies was the best way to increase my abilities in both of those fields as the limitations imposed by an undergraduate degree were preventing me from pursuing the type of career I wanted. I am also a life-long student of biodiversity and natural history, and had many questions that I hoped to be able to answer or clarify.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

The opportunity for graduate research at UBC presented itself fortuitously, and I was eager to act upon it when it happened as I had long been thinking about pursuing graduate studies. Thus, it was not so much that I chose UBC, but rather that UBC chose me!


My PhD work involves the collaboration of a diversity of individuals in the botanical community, including those in government, industry, museums/collections, academia, and the general public".