My research focuses on human rights and conservation, exploring how “rights-based approaches” can foster win-win solutions for people and biodiversity. I partner with stewarding communities in the Indian Himalaya and Canadian Arctic to examine how large landscape conservation initiatives reflect international, national, and local rights frameworks.
Broadly, I’m interested in making wildlife conservation work better for people. Under international agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, most countries are on track to meet area-based goals for protected area coverage, yet they fall short on commitments to equitable governance, and biodiversity loss continues to accelerate. Given these challenges, my research focuses specifically on the intersection of human rights and conservation, exploring how “rights-based approaches” can enhance synergies between social and ecological goals. Employing qualitative ethnographic methods, my dissertation research considers how the stewardship rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities are addressed in Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation Area, Nunavut, Canada, and the Kailash Sacred Landscapes Conservation and Development Initiative, Uttarakhand, India. Through a comparative study of these two cases, I examine how large landscape conservation initiatives incorporate and reflect international, national, and local resource rights frameworks. The goal of this study is to learn how conservation policies can better protect biodiversity while respecting and promoting the rights of stewarding communities.
What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?
To my mind, public scholarship is about using academic research as a tool to make the world a better place. Actualizing the potential for doctoral work to contribute to the public good requires bridging academia and decision-making processes by engaging with the relevant stakeholders and rights-holders throughout every stage of the research process. Simply publishing good research is not enough to achieve the necessary developments in policy, enhanced awareness of important issues, and improved relationships between researchers and communities. Public Scholars go beyond publishing or presenting at conferences: we conduct research in partnership with local communities, we write and distribute policy briefs, and so much more. Fundamentally, I envision public scholarship as a solution-oriented, community-engaged, and transparent approach to research and learning.
In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?
Doctoral research holds critical insights for addressing some of the most pressing issues of our time, but these lessons often remain within insular academic circles. Re-imagined with the PSI, the doctoral dissertation does not sit on a dusty shelf, but becomes a useful, actionable, and accessible tool for solving real-world problems. Further, the PSI also imagines a different kind of graduate student experience: the PhD student, far from the lone thinker pondering in solitude, is a scholar embedded in a network of peers and community. She listens to and learns from non-academics when designing her research, is responsible to those interested in and affected by her work, and engages with the broader public to communicate her findings accessibly. Sharing the experience in these ways also ensures that she is not isolated, but has the support, validation, and critical feedback necessary to conduct better research and remain motivated throughout her program. Ultimately, I believe the PSI promotes a more societally valuable and personally rewarding approach to the doctoral degree program.
How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?
I plan to return to the conservation non-profit sector after earning my doctorate. Prior experience has taught me that nonprofit leadership is not only about big ideas, but the ability to carry them out. This requires good metrics and a critical eye to the impact of programs on partner communities and target ecosystems. In carrying out fieldwork for my doctoral dissertation in Nunavut, Canada, and Uttarakhand, India, I am gaining invaluable experience in navigating the nuances and challenges of conservation in practice. Connections with fieldwork partners and practitioners in the host organizations afford possibilities for future collaboration and learning. Back at UBC, I have the opportunity to connect with scholars and practitioners working in conservation, establishing a professional network. It is my hope that graduate school will allow me to develop the tools and networks necessary for transitioning into a leadership role in my field outside academia.
How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?
My fieldwork is conducted in partnership with government entities and local community organizations: In Uttarakhand, India, I collaborate with the Wildlife Institute of India — a government-directed research and policy centre dedicated to conservation scholarship and practice — and Himal Prakriti — a grassroots civil society organization focused on environmental management and community development. In Nunavut, Canada, I am in conversation with Parks Canada and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, and aim to work closely with Hunter and Trapper Organizations and other local representative bodies in the field. Because this is designed to be community-engaged research, partner organizations take a leadership role in the research process. Currently in the early stages, these relationships are evolving and research plans shifting as we work together to ensure that my research questions and study design meet community priorities and local ethics expectations. As the study progresses, another key goal will be engaging with policymakers (within and beyond the government partner bodies) by producing locally appropriate policy briefs. This will be an iterative process, incorporating feedback and input from partners at multiple points where possible, while also respecting any capacity limitations.
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
I have worked and volunteered in the nonprofit conservation sector for almost a decade, acting in a range of capacities, from Logistics Coordinator to Education/Media Specialist. This work –– particularly a longstanding relationship with Polar Bears International, a conservation organization operating across the circumpolar Arctic –– has been professionally rewarding on many levels. However, I have felt limited in my capacity to shape larger organizational goals without more robust academic training. My interest in graduate studies stemmed from the aspiration to take on a leadership role in conservation planning and programming outside of academia. This drive, coupled with extensive field research experience as an undergraduate student in Northern Uganda, which inspired a passion for qualitative community-based research, prompted me to pursue a graduate degree. I believe that with more tools at my disposal, I will be better equipped to guide the agenda of well-intentioned initiatives — in the nonprofit sector or in policymaking — towards programs which have tangible benefit for communities and contribute to better ecological outcomes.
Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?
In applying to graduate school, I sought an interdisciplinary environment with a commitment to applied and problem-oriented research. The Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability at UBC offered exactly what I was looking for in this capacity: UBC is a world leader in my field, situated in a city where the conversation around Indigenous rights and the environment is arguably at its most progressive. I have been overwhelmed by the passion and academic caliber of my peers and faculty at IRES. Many academics in our department are actively involved in work beyond the university, and I am inspired by their commitment to balancing academic and practical work. I am fortunate to work with accomplished and supportive committee members: Dr. David Boyd is recognized for his contributions to the field of human rights and the environment, and is well suited to inform the legal analysis component. Dr. Janette Bulkan has decades of experience working with Indigenous communities on co-management projects, and is well versed in the challenges and obligations of Indigenous research. Dr. Terre Satterfield has published extensively on the social dimensions of conservation, and lends a wealth of experience in interdisciplinary social sciences. Other UBC research groups, including the Himalaya Program and the Indigenous Community Planning school, offer specific resources and courses that I can draw on to support my research goals. Alongside these resources and faculty guidance, the IRES focus on interdisciplinary graduate work provides a supportive and rigorous environment to pursue my research.
Public scholarship is about using academic research as a tool to make the world a better place. Actualizing the potential for doctoral work to contribute to the public good requires bridging academia and decision-making processes by engaging with the relevant stakeholders and rights-holders throughout every stage of the research process.