Working in partnership with Non-Governmental Organizations, Civil Society Organization and local communities in Cambodia, Sophie’s research will explore the ways in which internationally driven programmes have come to shape Cambodian forest governance and impact local communities.

Janette Bulkan
United Kingdom
UBC Public Scholars Award
Research Description

There has been over 25 years of international interventions in developing countries to strengthen forest governance, promote sustainable forest management and to conserve forests. The objective of this research is to examine the interaction and contribution of international interventions in Cambodia at the National, Regional and local level. I am interested in understanding how, through programmes and projects, internationally driven political-economic and ecological discourse are realized and come to shape national forest governance and impact local communities. The research and research findings are intended to feed into the ongoing European Union-Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (EU-FLEGT) initiatives both in Cambodia and throughout the region of South-East Asia.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

Being a public scholar means I am now part of a greater network of people who share common goals and interests. In the fields of forest governance and social justice it is important that the work undertaken in academia can reach a wide audience and hopefully have a positive impact on the local communities where the research is targeted. Since much of forest governance and community forestry is done in partnership with governments, Non-Governmental Organization and Civil Society Organizations, it is important that this partnership is reflected within research. I hope that in doing so, the research can be further applied to improving forest governance.

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

The PSI widens the concept of what a PhD can be and what impact a PhD may have. PSI brings local communities and social justice to the forefront of research and recognizes the contribution that research can have to the world outside of academia. It is for this reason I am excited to be part of the PSI network.

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

The experience and knowledge that I have gained through previous work and research, and the opportunities that have presented themselves throughout, have all led me to the next step in my career. It is not clear yet how by the end of my PhD the experience that I gain will have shaped me and what new career possibilities will arise. I do know that I wish to use all the knowledge and experience I take from the PhD to continue to work in issues relating to social justice.

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

Partnership and collaboration are a large part of my research. Through the partner organization RECOFTC - The Center for People and Forests, I will be conducting research alongside a project that focus on strengthening Non-State Actors for improved forest governance. Working with the NGO will also enable me to gain access to state ministries and department and securing interviews with government officials which is central to the research.

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

The research findings will be developed, alongside civil society and non-governmental organizations into a white paper to suggest ways forward for forest governance in Cambodia and, increase the participation of civil society organizations and community forestry communities in future programmes. Capacity building will also be a central part of the proposed field work. For the field work I will work in partnership with a Bachelor's or Master Scholar from The Royal University of Phnom Penh as part of a shared learning experience.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I have three years of experience working in Cambodia on forest governance and community forestry issues with a South-East Asian based Non-Governmental Organization. The experience I gained led me to ask questions in regards to the impacts of international development on local communities and social justice. I see a graduate degree as a pathway towards increasing my knowledge and potentially contributing towards assisting local communities in Cambodia.

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

I decided to study at UBC for a number of reasons. First, I have for a long time wished to visit Canada. Second, UBC is one of the best places in the world to study Forestry. Third the professors that I wished to work with matched my research interests. Thankfully my application was successful and here I am.


PSI brings local communities and social justice to the forefront of research and recognizes the contribution that research can have to the world outside of academia. It is for this reason I am excited to be part of the PSI network.