Rabia Ahmed was a project coordinator in 2018 as part of the North Coast Innovation Lab (NCIL). Rabia spent four months in Prince Rupert on a project that focused on finding ways to increase access to the local fish and marine economy. Since graduating, Ecotrust Canada followed up with her to learn about her academic and professional experience with the NCIL internship.

What have you been up to since you completed your NCIL Cohort 1 internship?

After completing my NCIL Cohort 1 internship during the Summer 2018 term, I headed back to Ontario to continue my Masters in Environmental Studies program at York University. My experiences with the NCIL have stayed with me; the knowledge I gained during my time in Prince Rupert was key to sparking my interest in fisheries management on Canada’s west coast. In March of 2019, I returned to Prince Rupert as a student researcher to continue exploring the complex world of fisheries management and coastal food systems.

How are you carrying your Masters research, and NCIL experiences, forward?

My time in Prince Rupert working with the North Coast Innovation Lab has been instrumental in shaping the direction of my Master’s research. My project in summer 2018 focused on understanding why residents of Prince Rupert were finding their access to locally caught seafood limited – you can read more about it here and in the final report for that project. Throughout that project, I spoke with community members, fishermen, and those working in various roles within the fishing industry in the region. What I heard repeatedly was that while the small-scale initiatives we were working on with the NCIL were valuable for improving local access to seafood – if I wanted to understand how the fishing industry came to be where it is today, I needed to look at the policy and regulatory realm. Encouraged by these conversations, I decided to follow this thread for my Master’s research.

The time I spent in Prince Rupert working with the NCIL taught me a tremendous amount about the fishing industry and how small-scale fishermen and community members are deeply connected to fish as a critical source food and livelihood. As the people most impacted by changes in the fishing industry, small-scale fishermen hold a wealth of knowledge on how fisheries can contribute to conservation, social and economic goals. Inspired by the deep knowledge and willingness to share it that I encountered, I wanted to understand how local voices, especially those of fishermen, were involved in fisheries management and decision-making conversations.

“…[A]lthough my role with the NCIL was that of a researcher (a role typically associated with the academic world), I was able to learn and demonstrate diverse skills such as building and managing relationships, translating complex information into easily digestible formats, and project management – all of which will be valuable experiences as I move from the academic into the professional world.” – Rabia Ahmed

I returned to Prince Rupert in March 2019 to once again talk to community members and fishermen about their experiences, this time about the policy and planning aspects of fisheries management. The relationships I developed during my NCIL internship were instrumental in shaping the direction of my Master’s research and in connecting me with research participants. This time around, the questions I was interested in were focused on the opportunities and barriers that fishermen and those working in the fishing industry in Prince Rupert had when participating in fisheries management, specifically their perspectives on co-management. Results from the research will be available online in the near future.

Prince Rupert was as welcoming as when I arrived for my internship, and returning when I did, I was able to meet the new NCIL cohort. Each of the interns for the second NCIL cohort were deeply engaged in the community and working on diverse projects – you can read about them here! I’m excited to follow the progress of the NCIL and see what future cohorts work on.

What advice would you give to someone looking to bridge academic experiences with professional ones?

As I approach the end of my Master’s program and reflect on where I’ll be going next, there are two pieces of advice that I would share with students making the transition from the academic to the professional world: the first is to take any opportunities that come your way to contribute your academic work to real-world projects or problems; and the second is to break your experiences down into components and identify what skills and expertise you gained through each.

To illustrate the first piece of advice: through both my NCIL internship and my final research, I attempted to stay grounded and allow my work to be guided by community members who are embedded in the fishing industry and local food system. As a student I find it easy to get lost in the theoretical and hypothetical – and there is plenty of opportunity to learn from those perspectives in the classroom. However, in working on a community-based research project with the NCIL, I found that I gained a deeper understanding of how to work on complex real-world problems. Through my return to Prince Rupert as a student researcher for my Master’s project, my understanding of the theory I had been learning was enriched by the experience of staying connected to the real-world problems that I was studying.

My second piece of advice is simpler. As a student, it can be difficult to look at your academic experiences, the majority of which are classroom-based, and make sense of how they will translate to the professional world; however, every project allows you to demonstrate a variety of skills. For example, although my role with the NCIL was that of a researcher (a role typically associated with the academic world), I was able to learn and demonstrate diverse skills such as building and managing relationships, translating complex information into easily digestible formats, and project management – all of which will be valuable experiences as I move from the academic into the professional world. Even in my classroom-based coursework, projects which allowed me to practise teamwork, negotiation, and analysis of technical documents are all skills that are easily transferable to the professional world. In addition, I wouldn’t write off theory for the professional world either – theory has taught me to think strategically and abstractly, to bridge apparently diverse problems and to make sense of complexity in a way that a focus on the purely practical does not allow. All this is, of course, in addition to the subject-matter expertise you will have gained from in-depth study in a field that interests you already.

READ MORE: North Coast Innovation Lab Is Bringing People together In Prince Rupert