Future you: How to build a career in environmental sustainability — October webinar
Watch the “Future you” October Webinar (October 19, 2023)
First, I would like to mention that the CFI respectfully recognizes and acknowledges the traditional relationship that the First Nations, Inuit and Métis across Canada have with the land that all Canadians share.
So before we get started, I just want to tell you a little bit about the CFI and why we are doing this webinar series. The CFI is a funding organization that invests in research labs, equipment and facilities on campuses across the country. This includes everything from DNA sequencers, lasers and electron microscopes to larger scale infrastructure like ocean tracking networks, radar systems and research vessels, and we funded almost 13,000 projects over 27 years. So you can imagine that many of the research projects that you can think of in Canada probably somehow use the infrastructure we have funded. You may even know some on your own campuses. The investments we make help attract top researchers to Canada and equip them to be global leaders in their fields. Access to cutting-edge research and tools allows them to respond to emerging challenges, like the pandemic and food security, climate change and environmental sustainability, which is the area we are going to focus on today.
So why are we doing these webinars? Well, the labs we support also serve as a training ground for students. They are the spaces where undergrads and grad students conduct research, meet their mentors and gain skills that they can use to build their careers. In fact, each of the panelists we have with us today and our moderator have spent time working in a CFI-funded lab and, as you will find out, they have all gone on to work in rewarding careers. As an organization we recognize the value of this kind of training and hope to inspire students to see the same.
So, I think we are ready to get started, but before we do, I just want to mention one little bit of housekeeping, before I introduce our moderator. We are leaving as much time as possible for panelists to answer your questions, so if you have a particular question you think of as you listen to the discussion please write it in the Q&A section you see at the bottom of your screen. We will endeavor to get to as many of these as possible during the time we have.
So now I would like to pass it over to our moderator, Catherine Girard. Catherine is an assistant professor of microbiology at l’Université du Québec a Chicoutimi. Her research focuses on the microbial ecology of ice in the Arctic and how climate change will alter landscapes and ecosystem function. So she is very well-positioned to lead this discussion today with our four really interesting panelists who are all working in environmental fields. Thank you again for joining us today and over to you Catherine.
Catherine Girard: Thank you Elizabeth, and thanks to everyone who is joining us in the audience for this webinar. I am very pleased to act as the moderator for today’s discussion with our panelists and as Elizabeth mentioned, I’m a microbial ecologist. I’m interested in how microbes are responding to the warming Arctic and climate change and sustainability have always been very deeply connected in the work that I do and microbes are one of the key actors of this interplay.
So throughout my training in STEAM, I was always fascinated by biodiversity, by conservation and how ecology and microbiology research can lead to sustainable solutions to local and global issues. So the subject is certainly very near and dear to my heart and I am very pleased to be with you today to facilitate this panel on careers in environmental sustainability and I’m very happy to get to spend the next hour with you and with our wonderful panelists who have careers in this sector from all across Canada.
So now I will briefly introduce our four panelists who you see on the screen. So first Emmanuel Balogun who is a fuel cell scientist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. Welcome Emmanuel.
We are also welcoming Christine Gabardo who is a clean-tech innovator and the co-founder and chief technology officer of CERT Systems in Toronto. Welcome Christine.
We are also welcoming Varun Gupta who is a water and mine closure specialist at Environmental Resources Management, also in Toronto. Hello, Varun.
We are also welcoming to the panel, Kiyomi Holman who works at Ocean Networks Canada in Victoria as a community support specialist. So, hello Kiyomi, thank you all four of you for joining us here today.
So I would now like to pass the mic over to our panelists and give each of them the opportunity to introduce themselves and to share a bit about their journeys in their respective fields. So what paths led them to their current work in environmental sustainability, what experiences, which mentors supported them along this journey and what does a day in the life of our panelists look like in their current careers.
So let’s start with Emmanuel, who, again, is the fuel cell scientist at Simon Fraser University. Emmanuel could you share a bit with us about your journey and tell us what led you to your current work?
Emmanuel Balogun: Hi everyone. Yeah, as you know my name is Emmanuel. I’m originally from Nigeria and I lived in Nigeria up until, I think, 19 years ago. That’s where I did my bachelor’s, my bachelor’s degree and I graduated from high school and everything, back in Nigeria. I would say that growing up in Nigeria it was very interesting because I never knew there was a different reality compared to what I actually back then. Coming to Canada made me put a lot of things into perspective.
First and foremost why did I choose a career in environmental science and engineering and why did I go into clean tech? I would say, I don’t know about Canadians and what nationalities are represented in this webinar, but you know African parents and mothers they always want their kids to be doctors. I also wanted to be a doctor because I like to write a lot of essays and I’d be like oh, wow. I would like to be referred to as Doctor Balogun not Mr. Balogun. One day, I realized I didn’t blood. I can faint at the sight of blood, so I took a different career path.
Thankfully I took a class in my biology class which is equivalent to grade 10 here and we worked on chlorofluorocarbons and the effect on the environment and that changed my perspective and that informed my career choice to date because I realized that we actually need [inaudible] extinction because CO2 in the environment is bad, greenhouse gases, and Nigeria had the highest, fourth highest death rates from bad air quality. So I just feel like I could save lives, maybe not as a doctor, maybe as an environmentalist, so I decided to take a career in STEAM. Yeah, that has propelled the choices that I have made thus far.
What does the day in my life look like? So one of the things that also really helped me coming up, was I had a lot of mentors. One of the key mentors I had in my life was one of my professors in college. He actually introduced me to research early because it’s my interest in those kind of things and I started looking at [inaudible] cells and all that kind of things. They weren’t adding to my grades, it was just some of the stuff that you do on the side, but that’s how my interests got peaked because I started seeing the impact, the meaningful impact you could have through research. Although it wasn’t well funded, but at least you see that you at least make little changes and I saw little things when you publish a paper, you are the only one in the world that has that insight. So it’s kind of a pride thing also.
So yeah, that’s one thing that really guided me in this spot because that experience point me out to the possibilities that exist in the environmental field and yeah, I began to become more curious, asking questions and yeah, [inaudible]
A day in my life, I go to the lab, I cannot [inaudible] the lab. So you do experiments, you make , make [inaudible], my hands are very temperature friendly now because I [inaudible] in 80 degrees most of the time [inaudible]degrees, so I can actually [inaudible] degrees hot. Yeah, it’s fun though, it’s really, really fun, you get to discover new insights. You get to get frustrated, with experiment failing but then you get the excitement when you find something that is patentable. So it’s been amazing thus far. Yeah, pretty much predictable [inaudible] Everything I do, but I would not trade it for anything else. Thank you.
Catherine: Thank you Emmanuel and I think a lot of people in the audience and all of our panel and probably relate to living in the lab. That’s certainly something that is very familiar to many people here. What a wonderful start to your journey, this feeling of being able to save lives in other ways than through medical practice, through environment studies. I think that’s very lovely. So, thank you for sharing. I would now like to pass the mic over to Christine to share a bit about her journey with us. So, Christine how did you get involved in clean-tech innovation and how did you end up co-founding CERT systems?
Christine Gabardo: Thanks Catherine and thanks for CFI for inviting me to participate on this panel. As it was mentioned I am Christine Gabrado, co-founder and CTO of CERT Systems. CERT Systems is a carbon tech company. We are a start-up company on a mission to transform the way the world’s most important chemicals are made. So these chemicals like ethylene go into everyday products that we interact with like textiles, building materials and fuels and traditionally we have relied on fossil fuels as both the carbon source and the energy source to fire the processes to make these chemicals. So this has led to significant CO2 emissions each year being derived from the chemical production industry. So at CERT we are developing an electrochemical technology that converts carbon dioxide and water using clean electricity into these same base chemicals and scale our technology as a potential to reduce a gigaton of emissions.
So I grew up in Dundas, Ontario which is part of Hamilton and I’ve always been interested in math and science, inventing things and building things. So after I finished high school I decided to go into engineering and I chose McMaster University to do my undergrad because they offered a program in electrical and biomedical engineering and I was really interested in this field because it covered so many different aspects of engineering. It was very multidisciplinary and I was like Emmanuel, my family wanted me to be a doctor, but I am also afraid of blood, so I thought maybe I could maybe develop medical devices instead. So during my undergrad, I had the privilege of working in multiple research labs at the university and then after my undergrad I decided to continue in academia and in research and I decided to do a master’s in the school of environmental engineering at McMaster. So I was working on electric chemical biosensors for point-of-care applications. I really enjoyed that research work and so when it came time for me to actually graduate, I had decided to switch into the PhD program so I could finally become a doctor, a different type.
So after I graduated from that program I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with my career, so I decided to stay in academia and do a postdoc. So I joined the University of Toronto in Professor Dave Sinton’s group and I switched fields into CO2 electro reduction. So I had the background in electro chemistry, but I was applying it for a different field. So the first two years of that experience were a typical postdoc experience. But then at the end of the two years I had the opportunity to join as the technical lead for a school team that was participating in the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition. So this was a global competition aimed at developing and scaling technologies to convert carbon dioxide from industrial sources into useable products. So I was tasked with trying to translate the technology that we had developed in the lab into a pilot plan that could be deployed at an industrial site.
So over 2019 and 2020 our team worked on scaling our device and we deployed it in Calgary, Alberta at an industrial power plant where we had demonstrated the largest carbon dioxide electrolyser to date and the first ever industrial emissions into ethylene. So with the success of that competition and the traction that we gained with potential customers, we decided to spin out CERT Systems as a company from the university. So in 2021, with my co-founders, we spun out and we started building our company and growing our team and so that’s what I’ve been doing since then.
My role as CTO at CERT is a bit, I guess, ambiguous. I do a lot of different things, I have to wear a lot of different hats. Well, I am mostly focused on the technology side, so developing the technology roadmap for getting our product to commercialization and de-risking our technology. I also have to manage our technical team. So we have a team of 12 engineers and scientists. I have a lot of administrative duties and HR duties and I also help with fundraising and grant applications. So kind of a bit of everything at the moment.
Catherine: Thank you so much Christine for sharing and I think this transition from post doc from academia into industry to entrepreneurship is really, really fascinating and I’m looking forward to hearing questions from our audience members for you. I’m sure you must wear many, many different hats in your role in your company. Thank you so much Christine. I would like to pass the mic to Varun now. Varun can you tell us a bit about the journey that led you to your current career as a water and mine closing specialist.
Varun Gupta: Awesome, yeah, thank you. Thank you for having me here first of all. Yeah, I moved to Canada from India in early 2000. So I’ve been here about 20 years. I did my high school onwards in Canada. Back in high school I wasn’t the smartest kid on the block. You know, I was like, I just want to do the bare-minimum schooling, so I can get out there and get a job. But things didn’t work out the way I planned luckily and I ended up going to the University of Toronto and did biology, environmental sciences specialist and majored there. I found really good mentors at U of T who kind of guided me through the whole journey and I really found what I was really passionate about was I really loved biology. I really loved environmental sciences, but I also knew I didn’t want to be a medical doctor, anything like that. So I just found a really good lab where I was able to learn technique; able to just, enjoy what I really just liked, without really focusing too much on the future and what was going to take me there. So I stuck around and did my master’s there as well. So that was in biogeochemistry and wetlands scientist. So that was my background and included carbon and methane cycling. It was all wonderful, really loved what I was doing, but it didn't me a job.
So I kind of stepped back and thought about it. Where can I get my environmental career out of here? So I focused more on using my base knowledge and make it more applied. So I decided to get a PhD where I focused on again wetlands, but to use wetlands to treat mine drainage water. So contaminated water coming out of mines. I went and did a PhD in that, from Laurentian University in Sudbury. So that was the first time I started working in a mining sector and really enjoyed doing that and then right away after I finished my PhD I moved to Saskatoon. I worked for a start-up company where we did semi-passive water treatment systems for mines and then I moved to ERM where I now work for mine closure team and what we mainly do is we work with all the big mines out there that you can think of and we go and develop their closure plan which is essentially a master document that kind of guides how a mine will close eventually. Following all the regulations and best management practices and all that stuff.
But I was able to utilize all the knowledge and skill set and to use it in my control. But in my daily job that's what I do a lot of time, but I also like field work and as you can tell, I'm in my field gear right now and I am working at a military base doing some archeology. Why, just because I wanted to be out in the field. There is only so much desk work I can do. So I want to be out, managed to be out here, do some other type of different work. So it keeps life interesting and you always find new stuff to do.
Catherine: Thank you Varun and thank you for joining us from the field. It seems like you knew very early on that you had this passion for biology and for the environment. It's quite amazing to see how it's become something that is so applied for these mine closure plans. So thank you for sharing and I'm looking forwarding to hearing more from you.
So finally, I would like to invite Kiyomi to speak. Kiyomi works at Ocean Networks Canada and Kiyomi can you tell us a bit about how you become a community support specialist.
Kiyomi Holman: Absolutely. Thank you Catherine. It's a made up title for anyone wondering, we did make that one up. So I work at a group called Ocean Networks Canada. It's a non-for-profit based out of the University of Victoria which we endeavor to support research in ocean sciences by collecting big data. So that's our big thing. We have a couple of large cable observatories that go off the west coast of Vancouver Island here. One of them is about 800 kilometers of fibre optic cable. It's all collecting data 24/7 that we make available, it's open access, it's free to download, that kind of stuff. But we also try to support others doing their own research projects and help them accomplish their ocean science data objectives, whatever they may be.
My journey here was definitely a bit of squiggly line on the map. I grew up in Metro, Vancouver, in BC and spent a lot of time here outside, goofing around in the Mountains, canoeing and surfing and camping and doing all that. So, I was very fortunate, I knew pretty early on that I just wanted to study something to do with the outside. I had a passion for geography early on and that just seem to cover everything I was interested in, when I was outside. I was definitely that nerdy friend who would go ooohhh look at the columnar basalt.
So to accomplish this and terrorize my friends even more I went to SFU and I started actually with Bachelor of Arts in geography and then got pretty bored of that pretty quickly, so I switched over to a Bachelor’s of Science and started focusing on hydrology and spatial information systems. So during my under grad I was in co-op. I did some field courses and I was just really enjoying field work. I was trying to get myself outside as much as possible. I'm glad that Varun mentioned this as well because there is so much time you can spend at a desk.
So in all of these courses, it's impossible to complete any of them without discussion around the significance of environmental sustainability and climate change, and so I naturally gained this interest in pursuing a career in that and yeah honestly, it's really fun. That's about it. It's super fun. Sometimes a little soul crushing, but overall very fun. So, I started with this selfish idea of someone paying me to play outside and at some point I had to recognize that I wasn't the next Alex Honnold and the planet needs a lot of help. So my passion shifted more towards sustainability.
While in my under grad I had a really excellent professor in remote sensing and I love the subject in particular because I had already been enjoying GIS, geographical information systems, but there were so many other ways to work with spatial data sets and the results which for me I'm a very visual person, so these results were very visual and very cool to analyze and it was something unique, at least at the time and I'm not sure if this has changed. It was unique to geography degrees and it was important for my future career goals.
So sometime in there I did an internship with some fluvial geomorphologists and was working at the Columbia River in Astoria. So I got to go on a boat for the first time, doing some multibeam echo sounding surveys and that was pretty dope. This just sort of reinforcing that I loved remote sensing and I wanted to do a fair amount of field work. So my prof ended up getting a tenure track position in Ottawa and so I followed him over there to grad school with him. As a supervisor and mentor, his name is Anders, he made sure that I had a lot of opportunities. We got some work with Natural Resources Canada doing [inaudible] to estimate snow depth. He made sure I was prepped to go diving in the Artic for my field work and I was definitely not mistaken for a seal by a group of Inuit hunters.
He made sure I attended conferences related to my work with them. He encouraged me to sign up for exchange program with the University centre in Svalbard which is a archipelago way up north, about 78 degrees north to be exact. There I got to study chemical oceanography for a few months and that was also very amazing. So learning about phytoplankton and its role in our lives and how I can breathe, thanks to phytoplankton. Then I got to do some TA work and I was in a field course for landscape ecology in Zanzibar where we spent some time snorkeling in coral reefs. That was the first time that I saw that my prof get really rattled because I guess he had done his PhD there and the difference from where he got his PhD from when we got back there was a lot of wasting happening in the coral reefs, so he was pretty shaken by that. So it was bringing climate change into reality even more for us I guess.
Then most of all he was really cool when I got my first job offer while working on my master's with him. So I ended up packing up and moving back to BC to work at a mine as an environmental coordinator and it was a lot. I wouldn't recommend doing full time work, alongside grad school, it's pardon the pun "it's the pits". I got a lot of field experience though, which was terrific and the role was interesting, but it wasn't for me.
During my time there I attended the Canadian Hydrographic Conference as a student and I was in a presentation by Kate Moran, our President and CEO of Ocean Networks Canada and I was caring about all the cool work they were doing and just that is was interesting, there was a lot of room to grow. There was so much stuff that they were doing as an organization and given that my studies and experiences were now more focused on marine environments and knowing that I definitely didn't want to continue a career in natural resources, I started shifting towards how do I get a job there.
So I left the mine, finished my masters, got a job, actually with the Ministry of Agriculture which is like another left turn, just to beef up my work experience in geomantic skills and then I applied and did not get a job at ONC as a GIS specialist, but did get a job as a community support specialist on the community based monitoring team.
So in my role we collaborate with coastal communities and partners to develop and implement their own ocean graphic mine training programs, however that might look. I don't really have a typical day in my work, since my schedule is often tied to our partner's schedules. So one week I might be working on reports until my eyes bleed, but another I might be delivering training on to use some instruments. I might be working on developing vessel traffic density maps for a group. A couple weeks ago I was on a boat in the middle of a humpback whale migration with a team of guardians from Hartley Bay in northern BC. It's a really varied and usually pretty interesting job. So, I'm happy that I got here the way I did.
Catherine: Thank you Kiyomi for sharing. I'm expecting a lot of people in the audience, also feel this need, this drive of being outside basically, to pursue work in environmental studies or in sustainability. I really enjoyed the squiggling line analogy. Like you are allowed to change your mind during your training to switch back and forth, course correct. So, looking forward to hearing more about that during our panel.
So thank you to all four panelists for introducing yourselves, now I would like to delve maybe a little bit deeper into how you got here, why your work in sustainability is important. So maybe to start us off, I could direct this first question to Varun because you already mentioned this a bit during your introduction. When did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in environmental studies? You mentioned very early on, not necessarily being that keen on school and what was sort of the light bulb moment for you?
Varun: Just even growing up, I mean, I just grew up watching the Discovery Channel. I was always intrigued by environment, biology, right, that was always something, yeah, really intrigued me and I was good at it, I innately understood concepts, which is great, but I would say when I really considered environmental sciences as a career that would be like later part of my under grad where I was working in a lab and doing my honour thesis and all of that. It really showed me different aspects of it, but I also knew very early on I did not want to be an academic. So my route was like consulting, you know, if I keep doing the environmental sciences, you know, the way I saw myself doing. So it was a very narrow path from that sense, just consulting, but that was literally my interest. I want to be an environmental consultant, but I did not know what the heck that meant. Right, it's a very broad term, you know there are so many different companies out there. So many different work streams you can do, right?
So that's all I knew. Just the terminology itself without really truly understanding what it means, right? So I think it just took me, doing my masters and, you know, I was wonderful at it, but it was so academic based where I didn't have any transferable skills. Where I was like okay, I'm good in academia, but you know, I can't go and get a job with it, right? So, that was where I really re-aligned myself and be like, okay, you know what I want to be in this field, I don't want to leave it, what are the main markets that I can find to work in it, right? So when I did my search, you know, it was like mining and oil and gas. I was like I'm going to pick mining, for no apparent reason. I was just like, let's just try this sector, right?
So I think it was just more about, I want to be in the environmental sector and be employed and it was just a journey that I went through, right? I did a PhD in it, so I can educate myself and get the right skill sets to have the knowledge base so then I can go and get a career where I want to be, right? So I think it was just that and it was an easy journey, it was like, you doubt yourself, you’re like I'm unemployed after having two degrees, really is it a good plan, right, but you just have to trust yourself a little bit, just back yourself, but also like you get lucky, right. You have to find those right mentors for you that believe in you, you know, they kind of push you to take you to the next step.
Catherine: I think that's very interesting. I'm an assistant professor in a university, I definitely believe in academia, but one thing that universities aren't very good at is preparing trainees for jobs outside of academia. So what I think you just shared is really really important of identifying well, if I don't want to be here, if I don't want to work in a university for the rest of my life, what other avenues, what other markets could I turn to, to use these skills. Thank you Varun that's really interesting.
Maybe Emmanuel we could turn back to you. Could you maybe share some insight into the same question? What motivated you to enter your field? Was there any moment that was like this lightbulb that showed you, you were on the right path?
Emmanuel: Yeah. It's so easy for me to give the impression that I had my life all figured out from high school. I did this course that made me want to go into environmental studies and all, but that wasn't the case. It was a rollercoaster journey. I came from a very, I don't like to say poor background, but not very financially stable and I happened to be the first to go to school among my family and I was like the last. So it was a series of firsts for me. One of the reasons I went to school was to break the cycle of poverty. After college I needed to get a job and I had to be real with myself and I just kept going for the best offer. So I initially started working in a bank which was equivalent to the Bank of Canada and I was like an IT guy there, but then I was miserable. I was just waiting for my pay cheque and then I just figured I would just leave it and do something else, something that would pay more.
I went into oil and gas. I did IT support and recruitment for oil and gas. I got miserable there also and I said okay, maybe consulting for big firms, would be really cool. I got into Deloitte. I was a consultant, I was doing tax which I knew nothing about, but they said they will train me. But then I realized that I was just another guy on the desk, everything I was doing was pretty regimented and I felt so, so miserable and I just realized that something was missing.
That's when I decided to go against everyone, act like a foolish guy and just pursue my passion which was to do something with my hands. To do something I'm happy to wake up to. I tried going after the money. I did get the money, but it wasn’t satisfying, that desire within. So I got a scholarship to go to South Africa for my masters. So I was at University of Cape Town and this was really a high moment. I did engineering physics for my bachelors, but when I go to University of Cape Town, I had an opportunity to get into the engineering program, electrical engineering and there I met a wonderful professor, her name is Dr. Jessica Chamier at the AISA, Africa Institute of South Africa. She and my main supervisor introduced me to the world of fuel cells and I just realized that this is it. This is what I really wanted to do with my life like hydrogen is the answer.
Fossils fuels I wasn’t all that into that sector. I know the amount of money that goes into that sector and I know all the politics that go into it, and I know that we need actually to de-fossilize the environment. We need to de-carbonize and if we don't have a solution we can't say stop using oil and gas, stop using petrol in your cars, if there is no viable solution, it needs to be part of the solution. I can't just say I'm going to be an advocate without doing something and I know I'm very good at calculations and this comes naturally to me. So like why don't I be a part of the solution?
So that's how I delved right into doing hydrogen research and I was privileged to be able to come to Canada for my PhD and this is where everything got more exciting. My supervisor here really helped me. I can’t really… I wouldn’t say [inaudible] has been really successful and I would not say that oh, yeah, it's the same story all over, in terms of academia, you didn’t get an opportunity to see if you could do something else, because for me, I got an opportunity to get into an entrepreneurship program during my PhD, it's called i2i Invention to Innovation and they had this business idea that I did because I didn't go into academia or do a PhD because I was trying to get a job or something, I was just doing it because I want to make a change. I realized the job is not the answer for me. I need to make an impact. So every time I go into the lab, I keep questioning why is this, this way? Can we make it better? So I learned by asking those very hard questions, questioning why people say never. I realized that all of those never are just people not willing to go the extra mile sometimes. So along the line I was able to take a [inaudible] and we were able to get a new technology. I was able to do something that takes as much as 24 hours as to be able to do it in 45 minutes. Then we commercialized that, that's how H2X Explore came about. It's a company that is very close to my heart and interest and then we won our first pitch yesterday so I’m still in a very excited mode. So it's not a very straightforward journey. I knew the importance of trying to make money when you're done with school, feeling that academia [inaudible] for you, but one thing really helped when you follow your passion and money is going to come along the way.
Catherine: I think that's a very important point that when you are maybe a young graduate and you are trying all these different positions or different jobs where you're not necessarily happy at, it can be quite disheartening and I mean your journey that you shared you tried many things before finally deciding no, this is what I'm meant to be doing. So it's certainly, I think that's good advice to sort of keep trying to find the right avenue and don't be discouraged if you are in a position where you kind of feel like you are in a rut. Thank you Emmanuel.
Maybe the next question I could direct to Christine. So you obviously did a lot of lab work during your training and your company is intimately related to lab work and the way we produce chemicals, could you tell us a bit about what your experience working in a lab gave you in terms of skills that helped you in your current position? What did you take away from your lab work as a grad student into CERT?
Christine: Definitely. So I had a lot of varied lab experiences during my academic career. So in undergrad I worked in the biochemistry lab, I worked in electrophysiology lab, I worked in histology lab and for my PhD I worked in biomedical, electrochemical bio sensing lab. Then for my postdoc I switched fields and started working on electrochemicals CO2 electro reduction. I think through all that there was some common skills that I took away from all those different labs. So independent research, being able to do literature review, scanning literature quickly, pulling out the key points and being able to build upon that in order to really innovate. Experimental planning, execution, project planning, using different pieces of equipment in the lab, different analytical techniques, being able to do data analysis and presentation, as well as trouble shooting and resilience in research because things don't always work out and it's important to know that that's the case and you can work through those troubles to find something that will work out.
I think I also took away a learning culture, meaning like a culture of continuous improvement. You know, I'm never done learning, even though I'm out of school now, I'm always willing to learn, as well as teach people what I've learned. So I think that's something that I wanted to definitely bring into our company and really encourage that knowledge transfer, individual learning and research, but also collaborative learning and research. I also took away the art of storytelling. I think as scientists and engineers, we can really get caught up in the technical details, but when we want to deploy our technology, or communicate our technology outwards, it's important that we are able to explain what we do to those that aren't directly in our fields and that's how we can really make an impact and deploy our technologies. Then I guess one final thing is that innovation is really a team activity, so that collaboration is really important. Working on hard problems requires multidisciplinary solutions and so working with diverse teams who bring unique skill sets is really important for getting to solutions faster than if you were working alone.
Catherine: So definitely a very broad set of skills that came from your time in your training.
Christine: Definitely, definitely. Although I'm no longer in the lab as much as I would like to be, I still interact with researchers every day and having that experience really helps me manage and guide their research.
Catherine: You mentioned accepting when things don't quite work out whether you are working on an experiment or something in the lab, and I think that's something a lot of grad students feel when you are in school pursuing a degree, designs or experiments have failed it can be quite personal.
Catherine: It's important to be able to pivot to the solution seeking mindset, right? Which is critical I expect in industry.
Christine: Definitely. I think reaching out to those around you when you are in those situations is really important, bringing in extra perspectives can really change your thinking and get you out of those ruts towards finding a solution.
Catherine: Excellent. Thank you, Christine. I would like to turn now to Kiyomi. Kiyomi you mentioned, you have had many different jobs in your career, you've tried many different things and now it seems like your work at Ocean Networks is quite varied. It seems like you do a lot of different things, depending on the community you are partnered with. What excites you about getting up in the morning and going to work?
Kiyomi: I mean who doesn't want to get on a boat and maybe see some whales today. I don't know, I just really love working with our partners. I think my mind gets bored pretty easily. So the variability of my work, it's very stressful but it's also very engaging. The fact that I get to be involved in so many projects and they are not about us, they are about helping these communities who are quite small. Some of the teams we work with are about six people and they are doing all these different marine programs. So we are one small part of that we are trying to help succeed and it's a very rewarding experience, it's a very exciting experience. Last week I helped teach some our local partners how to find and analyze whale sounds from hydrophone data which is an underwater microphone. Last month I was on the north coast talking with community members about their programs and doing some maintenance on their own community observatories. We were in a marine mammal workshop, saw those humpbacks which was amazing.
Earlier this year I was on artic sea ice in Iqaluit with a group of Inuit hunters who were collecting CTD (aka: conductivity, temperature and depth) casts. We took those CTD casts and we helped them do some analysis on the data that they are collected and found some anomalies within the water column that they were able to explain with their own traditional knowledge. So it was really exciting to see that fusion of traditional knowledge and what we would call traditional science I guess and have those worlds meet and then to appreciate each other I guess which was really, really cool.
So we talked with all the community members about the work that they have been doing over the last three years. It's just that there is a lot of really great stuff that we get to do in the day and you know, their success is probably what is the most exciting, it's really rewarding to see them. It's called a CTD, but it's an instrument that collects a bunch of water quality parameters to the water column and when they bring up the cast, we have an app that helps them sort of see the results right away and they can be like oh yeah, this is really cool. Or this explains at this time of year why the seals come to this area or something like that. And that they are able to quantify all these phenomena that they see all the time.
So quite a lot of the folks that we work with our indigenous and you get really humbled talking to them about their knowledge and experience because I guess for me I may be able to teach them how to deploy an instrument and do something with the data, but I don't have the knowledge or experience that they do about their waters, so like if I were on the boat I would probably get ourselves killed and run us aground or something like that. The most embarrassing moment for me ever was when I tried to tie a bowline in front of a group of wise old fisherman since they were kids. It was such a disaster, but they had a good sense of humour about it and they fed me lots of halibut after. So, no hard feelings.
It keeps you on your toes. It keeps you interested. When you go back to do some data analysis or when you start working on more projects with them and your relationship develops further, it just makes it, you always have something that you are working on which keeps you engaged every day which is just really exciting.
Catherine: This opportunity to be able to weave different types of knowledge together in your work, must be very rewarding and it sort of goes back to what Christine was saying, you might not be in school anymore, but you are definitely still learning new things every day.
Kiyomi: Yeah, I definitely had to do a lot of unlearning I guess from traditional academia mentality and be sort of like, oh, I don't actually know anything. So yeah, it's very exciting.
Catherine: Well, it's interesting listening to all four of you. I mean you all have very different backgrounds and different jobs right now. Like there is this main thread through all four of your stories, what I'm hearing is, try many different things before finding what you wanted to do. Easily bored, doesn't want to sit at a desk all day and do not want to be a MD. I think everyone sort of starts, a lot of people start in science thinking oh, I'll go to medical school. It's really exciting to hear all of you share about how you diverted from this path. Maybe for next question we can stick with you Kiyomi and I would like to know if you experienced any particular challenges or setbacks during your career development and how you overcame any of these setbacks?
Kiyomi: Yeah, I don't think my challenges were particularly unique. First I didn't grow up in a wealthy family. I took some time off after high school, so I didn't have a whole lot of scholarship opportunities, but that just meant I had to work during school. So I was a lifeguard all through my academic career and I had to be really good about time management, you know, working 20 hours a week plus taking a full course load is a lot. That definitely can be reflected in courses in how you perform, but I did well enough.
Also reflective on how long it took me to do my degree. It was a long journey but being where I am now and accomplishing what I have I feel like I'm very grateful for it and I still feel like I've done really well. One thing you do keep hearing about in this field I guess is sexism and ageism in the workplace. I would say that was something that I was not prepared for it guess. I was really lucky during my undergrad and through my employment even as a lifeguard to have a lot of women in leadership positions so I think I was very insulated from that. Including like I was also in a supervisory position. My prof was also what I would call an ally. There was no sense of inequality for me.
So when I was put into what I would call a grown up job, it was pretty obvious that there was a difference in treatment in this sector just because I was A, I was a woman and B, I was young and at the time, the field was very male dominated, kind of like this old boys club sort of fill. So you walk into work and you call sweetheart or sunshine and being the butt of jokes because you are too young for some it to have happened. It was discouraging. It was a bit of a shock to the system because I came from, why couldn't I do the same. I obviously, have been working very hard and I'm a person, so that shouldn't affect how people see me and it make it even more difficult because in my role I was a supervisor for a group of men who were at least 20 years older than me, so that was also pretty challenging. You know, I had my technical experience than them, but they had a lifetime of practical experience and it weighed on me quite a lot I would say. So I had to trust them to know what they were doing and were talking about, but it took a lot of patience and listening from me actually just to earn their respect as a leader, not that I thought I deserved it immediately, but it took a lot more effort than it would have for someone else. That was really frustrating and I had to recognize that sometimes it can be a no win situation with individuals.
So I started trying to understand when it's best just to not engage in a professional capacity and also when to speak up and advocate for myself and I think eventually we got to a happy medium, but by that point I was like maybe this isn't the sector for me. So I [inaudible] out of there so to speak. Yeah. It's not this amazing story of overcoming and triumphing over my difficult journey, but I think it's about as much as I could have anticipated given the situation.
Catherine: I think you make an excellent point that these challenges aren't unique and that many people in STEAM careers experience these. There is huge value in seeing yourself in the people that are important in your field of seeing people who act like you and look like you and I feel like maybe mentors and finding allies to support you throughout this journey is really, really important. People who will understand challenges that you might experience and will uplift you and sort of push down barriers to help you shine.
Kiyomi: Yeah, in that particular field it was hard for everyone in my boat, and it was harder for us to all I guess have our voices heard. So I think it's okay to retreat, also when you are not in a happy situation.
Catherine: Self-preservation is important.
Catherine: And maybe speaking of finding mentors and finding allies, maybe I could go to Christine with this question. How does one go about finding a mentor? How do you find that special person who will uplift and help you and help create opportunities for you to learn and grow?
Christine: That's a great question. I guess one of my first mentors was my PhD supervisor, professor Leyla Soleymani. To be honest she found me. My application to the school of biomechanical engineering. I was actually about to accept a different graduate school offer, but she contacted me the day before and I was really interested in the research that she was doing and so I joined her lab as one of her first graduate students. My intention was to join, just do a masters and go get a real job in the real world, but her passion for engineering and using it creatively to solve complex problems in DCIS (aka: ductal carcinoma in situ) diagnosis, really inspired me to continue on in the research. So I finished up my PhD program instead. So she both imparted technical knowledge and expertise, but she also nurtured my passion for working on complex problems and really shaped me into the engineer I am today. She always believed in my skills, even though I didn’t always believe in myself. I think as a female in engineering there weren’t that many examples of females in leadership positions that I had throughout my undergrad and kind of seen her as this young prof motivating me and her believing in me really, you know, helped me gain my confidence in myself. She also challenged me to grow in ways that I didn’t think were possible and I think that was really important, because I probably would have stuck in my comfort zone and really not expanded my skills or my knowledge as much if she wasn’t there mentoring me.
She also introduced me to my next mentor who was my post doc supervisor, professor Dave Sinton and he saw my background in electrochemistry and really challenged me to start working in the new field of CO2 electro reduction and I ended up really loving it. I never really saw myself as a leader and he gave me opportunities to led subgroups within the research group and then that translated into me being the technical lead for XPRIZE which really helped expand my technical skills, my project management stills and those leadership skills which without doing that project I don’t think I would be where I am today.
So I’m very grateful for that opportunity, as well as the belief that I could execute on that despite having only being in academia up until that point having zero industry experience and you know, going through that experience really taught me the importance of mentorship and having those people who are always on your side, who believe in you and even if they don’t have the answers, they can guide you towards the answers. So yeah, I think they really shaped me into the researcher and entrepreneur I am today and gave me excellent examples of what it means to be leaders.
Catherine: The mentors really paved the way for you and put the stepping stones in front of you to make sure you can get to where you need to be going and it seems like your mentors also set you up to become a mentor yourself.
Catherine: In your current position.
Christine: Yes, definitely.
Catherine: Thank you to all four of you for these insightful comments. Before I ask you one last question, I would like to remind everyone in the audience to enter any questions you may have in the Q&A function, there is already a few there. If there are any other questions please pop them in there. Now, before we move on to the audience Q&A, one last difficult question, if you were to speak to a younger version of yourself or if you were to offer any guidance to students who are in university or college right now and who are considering entering environmental field, could you give one piece of advice that would help them on their journey? You have already shared many, but if you could boil it down to one piece of advice each and maybe we can start with Emmanuel?
Emmanuel: I have quite a few, I don’t know which one I’m going to pick. Maybe I would say, believe in yourself, don’t doubt what you can do. That was a big challenge for me, especially being a student of colour in a predominantly white university, I doubted myself all the time. I felt that I do not fit in. I’m no good in science. I go to conference, I just the only one there and I feel like there is no one I look like or speak like me If you like, people wouldn’t really understand what I’m saying. But then let your excellence speak for you. When you are excellent at what you do, they will come find you. I believe in a [inaudible] So be intelligent. Keep working at it and don’t doubt yourself. [inaudible]
Catherine: That’s excellent advice. Let your excellence speak for you. I think that's very powerful. Christine maybe one piece of advice that you would like to share.
Christine: I think be open to opportunities. Do a co-op, do an internship during your studies. That's really your time to kind of figure out what you want to do and it's pretty low stakes to spend four months at a different lab or at a different company, just to figure out where your interests lie. I know for myself I was really set on getting my degree in four years, so I only worked during the summer, but really like what would it have mean to have graduated one year late. I think it's really important to spend time for a more diverse and enriched outcome. So yeah, try and get as much experience as possible.
Catherine: Try different things, four months is nothing.
Catherine: It's not that long. Thank you Christine. Varun could you boil down your experience to one excellent piece of advice for anyone listening?
Varun: For environmental sciences I will say understand market dynamics. Where you think economy, where you think the overall society is going to shift, right? And if you're going to be more strategic about it, those are the sectors you want to focus on.
Catherine: Being strategic to some extent and choosing the sector where you feel you can actually make a difference.
Catherine: Excellent. Thank you, Varun. And Kiyomi one final piece of advice?
Kiyomi: I would say maybe be curious. So Christine had mentioned this idea of continuous learning and always being a student in the world and I think that's totally true. I think there is this common phrase you hear in grad school about, the more you know, the less you actually do know, Hippocrates said it to some better extent as well, but you have to be comfortable with what you don't know, and that you should be curious and find out what you can learn about that. So, yeah.
Catherine: That's excellent advice. I think university training in STEAM often points to becoming an ultra-specialist of something. There is a lot of value in being a generalist as well and knowing things in many different fields and recognizing what we don't know.
Thank you for these four excellent pieces of advice. I would now like to turn it over to the Q&A section. We have a couple of really interesting questions and this first one I would open up to all four of you, so whoever is keen to answer please chime in. S
So one of our attendees posted, everyone is doing such interesting work and I can definitely relate to a little bit of everyone's stories, especially how roundabout it can all be. An open question to all, as a recent grad the job market is looking very competitive for junior and entry roles, especially without much experience, do you have any advice for getting that first job and getting that first step into the sector?
Emmanuel: Maybe I can give it a try. I think for me what I did was I knew that I needed to get a job outside when I finished my college, my university studies. So what I targeted first was internships, tried to get experience by volunteering and those things actually speaks a lot. And you need to learn how to also maybe for the lack of a better word, sell your idea. In academia they try to tell, you need to tone down things, sometimes you need to be able to maybe shout a little bit about your achievements and some of the things you do. So those internships, those volunteering opportunities, put them there, it show your recruiter. I was working as a recruiter for some time, so some of things we got to look at is: are you just, are you do, these times, or are you engaged. Once you show you are engaged, you are willing to work, you’re willing to learn. That’s how to make yourself get better. And if nothing is coming on, there are free courses that you could do online, just keep your mind equipped and that way you are distancing yourself from the rest of your crowd. So I explained extraordinary that leads to extra, than an ordinary person would do. The ordinary person would go 10 miles, if you go 10.001 mile, that makes you extraordinary, that leads to people being extra. You could just sit down and say I'm not getting the job or you could volunteer, get internship experience, the courses are free.
Also network with people, networking is very important, LinkedIn is a good resource, send messages to people, network with them, ask them to take you under their wings. I used to cast my net upon many waters. So when I'm trying to get new jobs, I don't just speak to one person who doesn't respond, I don't let my pride block me from speaking to someone else. I speak to like five, and at least one of them will reach out and if they don't I keep trying.
Catherine: That is so important because it can be very daunting to advocate for ourselves and sort of act as our own personal salesperson, but you are so right and that's wonderful advice to sort of use the tools of your field, like LinkedIn to cast the net and don't let your pride get in the way of meeting people and networking with folks who can help you get that next position. Thank you Emmanuel. We have another question, ooh.
Kiyomi: I just wanted to echo his sentiment about networking, I would say probably the most success that I've had with networking, especially when I was a newer grad, was going to poster sessions of conferences honestly. You walk around, these are people who are probably in a very similar boat to you, who are also new to the job world, I guess, and they are wanting to show their work and you can show what you are doing, you can talk to people who are a little further along and it's kind of safer space, if you are nervous about anything like that. Just have a conversation and keep in touch. Yeah, that's actually how I got this job, as I talked to someone at a conference and I just kept bothering them every year.
Catherine: Yeah, that's a good point. There are many different ways to network and advertise and advocate for yourselves. So maybe find the way, the medium that is most comfortable to you and try to go a little bit outside that comfort zone.
We have a question from an attendee that says Christine mentioned storytelling, how else can the arts benefit sciences and the scientific journey? Would anyone like to take this one? Maybe, Christine since you mentioned, you brought up storytelling, I will direct this to you to start. You mentioned it was so important, it was an important skill that you learned during your schooling, how does that translate in your day to day life at CERT systems?
Christine: Yeah, I mean, I think, my academic career I was mostly presenting to fellow academics and so maybe it really didn't matter what my graphs looked like on my Power Point slides, but now I have to interact with investors and potential customers and you know, the way I'm presenting information really does matter and really helps with the storytelling. So having figures and you know, other ways to communicate information so that everyone can follow along is really important because not everybody has the same background and I think arts is, you know, something that can be used to like provide a common language for everyone to really follow the story properly.
Catherine: Would anyone else like to echo what Christine shared about storytelling? The importance of finding the right way to explain what we are doing to the right audiences which are really different once we were are out of school certainly? Kiyomi?
Varun: I will, I can answer that a little bit. So as a scientist we love numbers, we love data, we love complex figures. We get wave energy from it. But for most people that is overwhelming and people who want to make a decision, they want to know within a few seconds, what are you trying to communicate, right? As a consultant, they hired you to give them advice, right? They are trusting you that you have already done your due diligence. You have looked at the numbers, you have looked at all the complex things behind it, but ultimately what does that mean and how is that going to impact them in their decision making. So you have to think from their point of view, what are they trying to get out of it and boil it down to simple things. This is what you need to do or this is what, you now, this is the steps you have to take. If they want to know more, they can always come back and be like how did you come to this conclusion. Then you can take a deeper dive because they have now interest in what you are telling, but until then you have to let them, you know, come for the journey if they want to, but tell them what's important to them, right away.
Catherine: I guess having clear understanding of what you are trying to communicate, what the message is and what the mission of the talk or pitch you are making is. Absolutely.
We have another question in the chat, so several among you have mentioned, I decided to do this or I switched to that, what or who helps you the most to self-reflect and to correct the path that you are on? How do you self-analyze and how do you reassess your options?
That's a big and scary question I suppose because these decisions can be very intimidating, so would anyone like to share on how you make these sometimes difficult chooses to switch your path during your careers?
Emmanuel: I can try to give it a stab. So, one of the things that people used to say when they see my CV is that I've moved around a lot from engineering physics, electrical engineering, to PHD in chemistry and all the kinds of jobs I did. The question I always ask myself often times is, I make decisions to make people happy, but not myself. I always consider myself last, but in truth I always have to go to bed with myself and people would no matter what you do. There are times when people are important and we just want to do things for them, but sometimes you also need to do things for you because after a while those people won't be there and you still have to live with yourself. So whatever decision you are making, ask yourself, can I live with this in the next 10, 20, 30 years. If I look at this moment will I say I did this for me, or I did this for someone else and maybe I want to do things for myself and in that moment of self-reflection it does help me to realize that Emmanuel. You have to live with yourself, you have to be the one to do all the work, is this something your happy doing. Maybe for other people but are you happy? That's how people get depressed and people hate their jobs. Yeah, just do what makes you happy. Ask yourself, am I doing this for me, am I doing this for someone else.
Catherine: That's so important, centering back on what you actually want and you are the person that lives with you and you need to be comfortable in the decisions that you make. I think that's wonderful advice. I know when I was more junior, when I was younger, I was very scared that my decisions would set me down a path that was forever and I thought I could never change my mind and that everything was predetermined. So trusting yourself to find the things that will make you happy is very good advice and feeling free to change your mind afterwards.
We have another question here for Christine, but I think everyone can relate to this, how do you juggle all of your responsibilities? It seems very challenging. Did you Christine or did anyone else here have any management training before stepping into your current roles, because to some degree you all have many, many different hats that you wear in your careers?
Christine: I can maybe go first on that. So I didn't have any formal management training. So what I did have was the experience that I gained through my academic experience in my PhD being one of the first graduate students, kind of automatically getting that leadership role in the lab and then moving on to post doc having a leadership role there. So it was kind of on the job training.
But I think what really helped when I moved into the startup was we started working with different accelerating programs and through those accelerator programs, they often offer you mentors. I think really learning from mentors who have been entrepreneurs themselves, who have led teams, you know, asking them management questions and kind of posing that to them. I also recently in the past year, have been working with a leadership coach, so that's been really helpful, you know, for really looking at what my strengths are as a leader and how I can put those out towards my team and really guide my team.
So those are some of the tools that I've used in terms of how I manage juggling a lot of things, I would say not very well. I think it's impossible to have a perfect work/life balance. I think staying organized is a key thing. So I am looking at my calendar all of the time. I'm prioritizing my tasks. I'm writing to do lists, I'm checking them off and I think that's the only way that I'm productive. Also recently as our team has grown, looking at who on our team can step up into leadership position, so that I can delegate stuff to them, I can empower them to become leaders and you know, they can take on some of the tasks that I have been taking on so far.
Catherine: So working together basically as a team, sharing the load.
Catherine: That we can't be perfect at everything.
Catherine: I saw a couple of heads bob when you mentioned Christine that you weren't very good at juggling, does anyone else want to chime in on this, maybe Varun or Kiyomi, Emmanuel?
Kiyomi: I can definitely relate to that. I think my supervisors would probably be like, yeah, they would also agree, just because it is hard to juggle some of your responsibilities at once. For management training I know I have had mentors try and help us out. They have different things like what is it a RACI matrix (aka: responsible, accountable, consulted, informed) or something like that. They will give you all these tools to help you, but it does come down a lot of the time to personal management I guess.
The question about having management training before stepping into the role, I've actually had more training offered to me while in a role. So once you are in a role someone is going to say, okay, we are offering this course on how to do leadership or something like that, then that will sort of help you grow into the role.
Another one that I would do was also throughout my academic career and also my employment, find people that you gravitate to that are leaders that you would want or enjoy working for and it's easy to model yourself after them or try to understand where they are coming from and why the operate the way they do. I think that really valuable just to follow their lead, I guess and be better as you move through your career.
Catherine: If formal training isn't available, finding positive… Varun would you like to chime in?
Varun: Yeah, I will add that I'm not the best multitasker. So the way I go about different things to do is I kind of break my day down by morning, afternoon, late evening session, whatever and I will take one task in that time and try to complete it, right? Then have a switch over, a mental switch over and then work on a whole different type of task later on in the day, right. So even though as a day you are multitasking, but at any given time you're only focused on one thing and one task. So, my brain does better that way. I can't do like five different types of things at one time, I will fail miserably at it. So you want to just break it down to manageable sections so to speak, right, and tackle it as it comes. So that's my one advice there.
Catherine: Breaking things down into more manageable bits.
With that I would like to thank everyone in the audience for the excellent questions and I am so sorry that we will have to stop now and we haven't been able to get to all the questions, but thank you for contributing to the Q&A.
Thank you so much Emmanuel, Christine, Varun and Kiyomi for taking time out of your very busy schedules to speak with us and to share about your journeys and your exciting careers. Thanks to the audience members for joining us today and contributing to the Q&A and the chat. For people in the audience we hope that you will join us for the next CFI Webinar which will be on November 28, that will feature four other great panelists that also have environmental careers. Please visit innovation.ca to register for this next webinar on November 28.
Also note that folks in the audience you will be receiving a survey in the next few days about this webinar, if you can please take some time to answer it. These surveys are very important to help the CFI improve the webinars that they offer and you will also receive another entry to win an iPad. If you can please take some time and respond to the survey.
We would also appreciate it if you can share info this webinar or spread the word to friends and fellow students and we will see you all next time on November 28. Thank you again to our panelists. Thank you to our audience for attending and I hope everyone has a great day.
Catherine Girard, assistant professor of microbiology
Catherine Girard PhD is an assistant professor of microbiology at l’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi. Her research focuses on the microbial ecology of ice in the Arctic, and how climate change will alter landscapes and ecosystem function. Catherine is passionate about collaborative research weaving Western and Indigenous Knowledge systems. She is involved in knowledge sharing and outreach, and in promoting the importance of scientific research in the lives of all Canadians. (Photo source: Atwood Photographie)
Emmanuel Balogun, fuel-cell scientist
Emmanuel Balogun is helping drive the global shift towards more energy-efficient economies. As a fuel-cell scientist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., he focuses on the development of cheap, accessible, sustainable and renewable energy. He is currently researching affordable materials for hydrogen fuel cells and is pioneering new methods of optimizing fuel cells to allow for their widespread adoption. He also co-founded H2Xplore, a company specializing in fuel cell testing.
Christine Gabardo, clean tech innovator
Christine Gabardo is a Clean50 Emerging Leader and a Breakthrough Energy Innovator Fellow. As co-founder and chief technology officer of CERT Systems, she and her team are converting carbon dioxide into green fuels and chemical feedstocks using only water and electricity. She received her BEng and PhD from McMaster University. For her postdoc at the University of Toronto, she focused on developing efficient and scalable electrochemical carbon dioxide reduction devices.
Varun Gupta, mine reclamation expert
Varun Gupta helps mining companies across Canada meet and exceed their commitments to regulatory and environmental sustainability. Varun is a water and mine-closure specialist at Environmental Resources Management in Toronto, where he is also part of a team that helps develop new uses for old mining sites. For his PhD in biogeochemistry at Laurentian University, he concentrated on mine reclamations, focusing on treatment processes in floating wetlands he designed for a mine in Sudbury.