Written by Meagan Grabowski

Polar Week YukonFor International Polar Week in the Yukon Territory, APECS Canada collaborated with Skookum Jim Friendship Centre to host ‘Academics, Research and Jobs in the North: Perspectives from Early-Career Scientists’. We had a panel of four northern early-career researchers who spoke at two events, one at Yukon College and one at Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, to a broad audience of students, teachers and interested members of the public on what it is like to work in science-related careers in Canada’s North. Many interesting points and perspectives came up, so as one of the organizers and panellists I will try to share and write up highlights from the panel discussion.

First off, there is a wide variety in the kinds of science-related jobs one can pursue in the North. One of our panellists, Stefan Gronsdahl, is a consultant for a environmental consulting firm. He spends approximately 20% of his time in the field and 80% in the office. In the field he works at contaminated sites and conducts spill response including sampling, monitoring, and supervising contractors, and in the office he spends a lot of time wrangling with data in excel and writing reports. Another panellist, Frank Annau, does similar work but from a regulation, investigation and compliance perspective with the Yukon Government. Jocelyn Joe-Strack is a sole-proprieter contractor and her job is science-related but mostly involves talking to people and gathering perspectives on what the best option for the people of the Yukon is. Lastly, I am a graduate student and contract researcher and I spend the summers doing field work and the winters writing. In summary, science-related jobs in the Yukon vary in size of office (many small offices), amount of field vs. office time, amount of consultation on multi-stakeholder issues, and much more.

There are different education and job options to pursuing science jobs and we are very lucky in the Yukon to have the opportunities we do. Experiential Science 11, Yukon Youth Conservation Corps, STEP and Gradcorps jobs were all mentioned by the panellists who grew up in the Yukon. These are exceptional programs to obtain experience as a Yukon youth. The level of education required differs for jobs, for example a diploma or degree is good for consulting techs and biologists, whereas a masters or phd may be required for government or NGO research in some cases. An additional consideration during education is whether a professional designation is important for the job you would like (i.e. RPBio, RPAg, RPGeo). Your education can be tailored to help you obtain this if so.

The career sectors these education and early-career job opportunities can lead to include university research, the private sector especially environmental consulting, government and NGO’s. A key point is to network and ask lots of questions to the people in the jobs you are considering, to build perspectives and insights into those careers. It is also important to apply to jobs even if they seem out of reach, and to work diligently to customize your application to the job and sector you are applying for. For example, in the private sector it is important to have a short 1-2 page punchy cv, whereas in government it is more important to hit all the points on the job description in your cv so lengthier is ok.

A main point regarding the application process in all sectors is to go in person to meet your potential employer and express interest and positive energy. Being persistent and not waiting for a job advertisement to come out, instead introducing yourself, making calls and visiting with your resumé in hand is how opportunities and positions have come about. An alternative way of viewing science-related jobs is to create your own. If you see a need or a niche where your skills and expertise could be utilized, there are opportunities to create your own employment by filling these needs. For academics, it is important to find a lab and a supervisor that you will work well with. This involves looking at their lab web pages and looking for evidence that there will be mentorship and support within that community, for example friendly group or field work photos. Other important research includes asking former or current students about their experience, verifying if the type of research aligns with your interests, and considering whether the place (or places) where you’d be living/researching are where you would like to live for a few years.

If you are interested in a particular subject or issue, there is space to specialize, whether it means pursuing a company that specializes in your interest, or courting a particular branch of government, or creating your own research program. As we build our scientific capacity, with both locals and newcomers, the North is a dynamic and rewarding place to pursue science-related careers.

Meagan Grabowski is a Yukoner and northern research, MSc Student with the UBC Department of Zoology, Jane Glassco Northern Fellow (2015-17), and APECS Canada Board Member.