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Student Life: Working as a Research Assistant

While the larger questions of how to preserve bio-diverse areas, change consumption patterns, or reduce greenhouse gas emissions may reign in the hearts of many environmental studies students, there are also the more everyday factors—such as our pocketbooks—that must be considered in our lives. For many students, working as a teaching or research assistant can be a crucial component of our education, as a means of income, skill-building opportunity, and if we’re lucky, as a way to ultimately help make those aforementioned goals reality.

In this manner, I’ve been fortunate enough to do some work for my own supervisor, Kathryn Harrison, who is a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of British Columbia (UBC).  Her research, most generally, revolves around a number of aspects of environmental policy. Most recently, however, it has focussed on the climate policies (or lack thereof) for a number of jurisdictions around the world, such as the EU, USA, Canada, and Australia.

As a research assistant, my specific tasks have ranged from helping conduct literature reviews, formatting and editing research grants, and collecting information about things like energy production and consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and more. While I have done the majority of these tasks before, having the extra practice has increased my level of proficiency and efficiency with some things, such as working with spreadsheets and graphs.

Although the subject area differs quite substantially from my own, which looks at urban agriculture and food policy, I nonetheless find it fascinating. I think that most would agree that the political challenges around carbon emissions reduction far outweigh those of the scientific or technical variety, which is why looking into these questions can be so important. For example, what kinds of institutional factors play into the making of climate change or carbon emissions reductions legislation? And how might the answer to these questions affect how advocates press for better environmental policy?

Of course, the nature of the work or research can change quite dramatically depending on the subject area. I’ve had friends assist in research doing a variety of things, from working in labs and running sensitive experiments, to collecting physical data in forests and streams, or transcribing, coding or analysing survey or interview data.

For most of us, it’s pretty nice not only to help out our professors, but to pay the rent and learn more at the same time. Another example of how lucky I am to be an environmental studies student!

Darlene Seto is pursuing her master’s degree at the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia. A keen student of environment policy and governance, her current graduate work revolves around diversity and engagement in alternative food systems.

Posted on: February 21, 2012, 6:00 am Category: The Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: , , , , ,

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