My research aims to help develop soil and water recovery strategies for mine tailings through 'phytoremediation', using the ability of plants and their associated microbes to remove or stabilize pollutants promoting in situ soil remediation.
My research aims to help develop soil and water recovery strategies for mine tailings through 'phytoremediation'. Phytoremediation uses the ability of plants and their associated microbes to remove or stabilize pollutants promoting in situ soil remediation (Furini, 2012; LeDuc and Terry, 2005; Pilon-Smits, 2005). According to the strategy used by the plants, special care needs to be taken towards plant management, or it could, sometimes, pose a threat to local communities. My study incorporates the complexity of a polyculture of 25700 individual plants of 11 species planted in 2013 into the tailings of a copper mine located in the Coquimbo region of Chile. Those species were analyzed for growth, plant physiology and plant microanatomy. Ultimately, I aim to provide scientific research and guidelines about conservation and restoration of lands affected by copper mining, while educating the public about native endemic species present in these sites. The Public Scholar Initiative (PSI) is key for this endeavour because it will allow me to bring together stakeholders and open a channel of communication between Civil Society, Academia, Industry (Forestry and Mining) and Policy makers. I think I am the right person to do this because I have pursued this line of research (plant stress ecophysiology) for over 10 years in the academic environment and I have made strong connections with academia, industry and NGOs in Chile.
What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?
Being a Public Scholar means being accountable to the broader community beyond academia. Often times I feel that people who are able to access higher education somehow get disconnected from the opportunity to report back to civil society, especially to those with less opportunity to pursue graduate studies. In this sense, I feel there is a responsibility to report back the knowledge and experiences gained in higher education in an effort to contribute to the public good. I also think that as public scholars we have to be aware of ethical conflicts and that our research can be used in different ways, which may not be how we intended (e.g. my research can be used for conservation of native species but could also be used to “green-wash” the image of mining companies that do not actually care much about the conservation of those species). Living in a millennial society provides us with the opportunity to share research findings easily in a wide range of formats and platforms. This is an opportunity we, the Public Scholars, should take advantage of. My hope is to challenge myself to search for new channels of communication.
In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?
Linking the pathways of doctoral students with diverse sectors such as non-profit organizations, industry, government, and/or civil society can help tailor doctoral research to more applied programs. I think policy papers, conferences, and any other effort (i.e. different from the usual journal papers and thesis) that connect academia and the public good should also be considered when evaluating a doctorate. Through this lens, future job opportunities for PhD students and partnerships for UBC will continue to appear and strengthen. It is hard to believe that for many decades the main outcome of a doctoral research has remained a thesis and academic articles. The PSI is an acknowledgement that so much more can be done to increase the impact of doctoral research on broader society.
How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?
Part of my Public Scholar project involves connecting stakeholders through a Multidisciplinary Seminar about forestry and restoration of ecosystems after mining (featuring guest speakers from environmental NGOs, the Chilean Government, industry, and academia). My initial idea was to assess how Chilean native plants cope with high levels of copper and other metals in the soil, and to evaluate their ability to reclaim these damaged ecosystems. This idea has evolved to incorporate a political lens, seeking consensus among the different stakeholders regarding guidelines that can allow proper land use planning, taking into consideration potential effects on the environment and local communities, as well as long-term effects.
How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?
My research aims to engage the larger community through a photo gallery, a seminar with stakeholders, and a website. All of these activities will be open to undergraduates in the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Chile (Santiago, Chile). The photo gallery will be displayed in Antumapu (Santiago, Chile) and in the hostel of the Chilean Association of Forest Engineers Pro Native Forest (AIFBN, community partner of this project; in Valdivia, Chile). The photos will showcase five native plants analyzed in my study, which are located in a copper mine in the Coquimbo Region (north of Chile). The goal is to inform the public about the anatomy of the plants and about some research outcomes in a user friendly way. The seminar will allow, I hope, consensus among the different stakeholders regarding guidelines on proper land use planning, considering impacts to the environment and local communities. The objective is to frame a policy paper following the main ideas and concerns of this seminar. The website will provide updated information about papers and workshops developed from this research as well as related events and projects about mining reclamation in Chile and abroad. Information regarding environmental policy-making in Chile will also be showcased. Ultimately, a list of non-profit organizations working on this topics will be posted.
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
I decided to do my MSc, and then pursue a PhD, once I realized the power of science and science communication. With the support of my supervisor, Dr. Rob Guy, an expert in plant ecophysiology, I believe that I can contribute to the conservation of native species of the Chilean flora as well as join other PSIs in facilitating the missing bridge between academia, government, and the public. This decision became even more important once I balanced the trade-offs of raising a family while working or studying. I think that timelines for graduate students are harder to meet when raising a family, but there is flexibility in the program. This flexibility has allowed my husband and I to share parenting duties without sacrificing either our work or our family (e.g. we can attend important dates at school and daycare, we can take care of them when they are sick, etc.).
Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?
I was looking for a place that would help me to pursue a degree, while raising a family at the same time. When we looked at UBC and I found my current supervisor, I confirmed that this was the right place to start my MSc program. After completing my MSc with him, studying balsam poplar leaf anatomy, I wanted to challenge myself studying Chilean flora but keeping the fundamental guidance, integrity, and work ethics of Dr. Guy. My husband is also a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Forestry (and a Public Scholar) and we have two daughters. Studying our postgraduate education here has been a dream come true.
Being a Public Scholar means being accountable to the broader community beyond academia. In this sense, I feel there is a responsibility to report back the knowledge and experiences gained in higher education in a effort to contribute to the public good.