Problem-solving and learning by science-based experience
By: Lynette Esak, PMP, MSc, PAg, EP, Project Manager, Edmonton
I grew up in a rural farming community in northeastern Alberta where the nearest village, Willingdon, was sixteen kilometres away. Fortunately, our farming area was very populated with large families. My family and neighbours were very strong mentors who helped guide me in my love of science. One of my neighbours, a farmer and a past professor and consultant in agricultural economics, continues to be my strongest supporter and mentor in my science career.
I was fortunate to be strongly supported by my parents to attend post-secondary schooling. In fact, they really did not give me the option to opt out of it and I had to pay my own way. I studied in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences and obtained a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture with focus on plants, soils and economics from the University of Alberta. There I also completed a Master of Science in Soil Science.
I now live and work in Treaty 6 territory and a traditional meeting ground and home for many Indigenous Peoples, including Cree, Saulteaux, Niitsitapi (Blackfoot), Métis, and Nakota Sioux Peoples in Edmonton, Alberta, as a Project Manager for the Prairie and Northern Regional Office of the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada since 2019. I work collaboratively with other scientists, project managers, engagement consultants and analysts on projects under the former Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (2012) and the current Impact Assessment Act (the Act) which came into force in 2019. My responsibilities include conducting conformity and technical (scientific) reviews of environmental impact statements, preparing information requests for proponents, reviewing federal authorities’ comments and information requests, and writing science-based chapters and sections of the decision statement reports.
I also had the opportunity to work on analyzing physical activities under the Act and associated Physical Activities Regulations. This includes writing analysis reports for ministerial decision on a designation request. Another aspect of my work is to review emerging physical activities to determine if the Act and associated Regulations are applicable in which case an impact assessment is required.
I was attracted to science from my strong drive to analyze and ask questions such as Why? How? Can I improve the process? I am a continuous learner and love problem solving. As such, working in science gives me the ability to work on technical “puzzles” and figure out problems using quantitative and qualitative methods. My career in science has been varied and challenging. It is a very dynamic field of work that is constantly changing and evolving. The environmental field is a new discipline where everyone is trying to learn and determine what works and what does not work. As scientists, we can help develop best practices and support the evolving legislation and regulations in this sphere.
I started my career working as a summer student with the federal government conducting field crop and soil conservation research. I subsequently worked as a consultant with the provincial government in regulatory approvals for a short time. My steepest and most rewarding learning time in science was while working as an environmental consultant, working as a soil scientist in assessment, remediation and reclamation on various projects in different sectors such as oil and gas, coal, oil sands (mining and in situ), pipelines, transportation, rail, forestry and agriculture as well as in different levels of government. I was fortunate to be able to conduct research and develop new field-based methodologies for the advancement of soil remediation in bio composting.
My experience and knowledge of science in field and office work, including reporting and project management, support my day-to-day work with the Agency. The regional offices have direct interactions with scientific and project management representatives of the project’s proponent, Indigenous communities and organizations and the public. They also work with experts from other federal departments and other divisions within the Agency.
Working in environmental and agricultural sciences has been very rewarding and satisfying in meeting my personal goals. I have been able to honor my values of being curious, doing many things at once, and being hands-on while having fun and enjoying life with family and friends. I enjoy being organized, handling details and working hard, researching interesting ideas, and planning what I can do next, whether it be a new cooking or preserving food recipe (chemistry and physics), trying out new plants in my garden, or the math of creating quilting patterns. Learning by experience, especially if science-based, is my go-to fun time.
I strongly recommend to others, young girls and women especially, to explore the fun of science, especially if you like problem solving.
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