Bright and passionate individuals in science fields are working to answer society’s most difficult questions and find solutions to our biggest challenges. The innovation, creativity and competitive advantage that comes with having a diverse workforce is more important than ever, yet women remain underrepresented in science.
In honour of International Day for Women and Girls in Science on February 11, our Chief Scientist, Dr. Fred Wrona invited women from across the department to talk about their work and share their experiences as scientists. Meet scientists Faye Wyatt and Karen Anderson.
Karen Anderson, Parks Ecologist
Karen Anderson grew up in Sherwood Park, Alberta and completed her BSc in Environmental and Conservation Sciences with a double major in Conservation Biology and Land Reclamation at the University of Alberta. She is also currently an Agrologist-in-Training (AIT) and Biologist-in-Training (BIT).
Karen has been with Alberta Parks for 9 years and currently works as a Park Ecologist in the Kananaskis region, specifically the Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.
Could you give our readers some insight into your role as a Park Ecologist?
My job as a Park Ecologist consists of a mix of office work and fieldwork throughout the Kananaskis region. My wonderful office is located in the grasslands of Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park where I predominately focus on environmental reviews for the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan as well any vegetation-related, monitoring or species-at-risk projects that are occurring in the region.
How does your work as a Park Ecologist affect the lives of Albertans?
As part of the Alberta Parks team of ecologists, we try to facilitate meaningful and effective integration of scientific research into the Alberta Parks system, which benefits the ecological, social and economic health of the parks for Albertans. We promote science-based decision making to assist with balancing the Alberta Parks dual mandate of conservation and recreation.
Can you share a success story you have had while with Alberta Parks?
A success story out of Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park was when Alberta Parks worked with AltaLink to install an Osprey nesting platform in March 2018. The previous Osprey nest was removed within a private right-of-way in fall 2017 due to its proximity to a railroad. It was imperative that we provided alternative nesting habitat because Osprey had been returning to that nesting location for at least 15 years.
Through a series of connections and very fortunate events, AltaLink generously provided the nesting platform structure and pole, the equipment, the installation vehicles and the staff time for the project. The day that we installed the structure was one of the coldest days in 2018, but the amazing staff from AltaLink, along with Alberta Parks staff, tirelessly put up the nesting platform. Fortunately, the osprey pair returned and successfully raised two chicks in summer 2018!
Dr. Faye Wyatt, Geospatial Scientist
Can you speak to your experience as a female scientist in the department?
I have had a really positive experience in the department, and I really appreciate that there are very strong female scientists in leadership positions to look to as role models. Being female has not affected my work, which I think speaks to how inclusive the department is. Our work as scientists and public servants is far more important than our gender, and I feel that opinion is shared by everyone I work with.
Tell us about your work as a geospatial scientist.
As a geospatial scientist, I am looking at ways to use geospatial science to support Alberta’s Environmental Science Program and the joint Canada-Alberta Oil Sands Monitoring Program. For example, this year I analyzed remotely sensed data of about 300 lakes across Alberta to understand how these lakes are changing over time. This project uses geographic information systems (GIS) to understand relationships between landscape drivers and lake characteristics, such as lake level, area, shape, climate regime, land use changes and location.
Have you experienced any “ah-ha” moments in your science career?
One big “ah-ha” moment was realizing that in order to understand a system, you have to experience it first-hand. Geospatial science often uses computer programs, models and satellite imagery to understand ecological processes and trends. By visiting a place in person, these processes start coming to life and help inform your analysis.
Another “ah-ha” moment was understanding the need to collaborate with others. There are many skilled scientists in the department, and when you start talking to experts in different fields you cross-fertilize ideas, leading to more integrative and better research. Finding ways to work together often advances the science much further than we would be able to on our own.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into the field of geospatial science?
To be successful in geospatial science, you have to be interested in the world around you. It is also important to think across disciplines since geospatial science is interdisciplinary by nature. One piece of advice for anyone wanting to become a geospatial scientist, and a scientist in general, is to learn a skill that you can apply to your discipline. For me, that meant learning remote sensing and geographic information systems