Deborah Scott; Research Fellow; University of Edinburgh

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The National Wildlife Federation EcoLeaders Career Center is celebrating the motivating stories and career accomplishments of young professionals making their names (and a difference) in the sustainability movement. We’re calling this group of change-makers and rising stars “The EcoLeaders Top 50 Inspirations.”

Interviewee: Deborah Scott
Research Fellow
University of Edinburgh

Interviewer: David Corsar, NWF

Deborah is a Research Fellow at the Science, Technology and Innovation Studies Department at the University of Edinburgh. As an NWF Fellow, developed a guide for native plants and trees to encourage sustainable landscaping at Goshen College.

David Corsar: Looking back at your experience with NWF, how has participation as an NWF Fellow help shape your career path?
Deborah Scott:
In my NWF fellowship, I developed a comprehensive guide to the native plants and trees suited to Northern Indiana ecosystems and my campus. The project had a larger goal of beginning a redefinition of my college community's aesthetic of land space, to set the tone for responsible land care and native landscaping through campus changes. As an NWF Fellow, I experienced how thoroughly socially embedded campus landscaping is, how many issues are of importance, of which having proper technical information is only one. I was a Biology major, but this experience helped push my interest in environmental systems to broaden into socio-environmental systems, leading me to go on to law school and ultimately get a PhD in human geography.

DC: What was the top thing that you learned in your professional development with NWF?
DS: Engaging in place-based environmental activism necessarily means engaging with the people in that place, that they will have multiple (sometimes conflicting) values and perspectives, and that this is not an obstacle to environmental activism - it is an opportunity for communities to form, for interests to be developed and identified, for new understandings of and relationships with a place to grow.

DC: What are you up to these days? Where are you working and/or studying, and why did you choose that path?
I am a research fellow at the Science, Technology and Innovation Studies department at the University of Edinburgh. I am part of a research project examining the movement of an engineering approach into the life sciences. I work on the governance of new and emerging science - how we go about deciding whether and how to govern new scientific processes and commercial products. My work experience has ranged from teaching outdoor environmental education in Indiana to practicing international environmental law in Washington, DC to analyzing agriculture and trade policy in Nairobi. Throughout, I have worked with various communities to identify their interests and engage with decision-making processes, in policy and legal forums as well as less formalized settings. In my academic research, I have continued to explore how decisions are made, and who gets to take part in them. I am interested in the specific knowledges that are drawn upon and produced in these processes, and how these ways of knowing shape institutions of governance.

DC: What would you say is your personal mission for sustainability?
To find ways to connect with, be changed by, and help transform the different socio-environmental communities of which I am a part.

DC: What motivated you to begin this path?
Being raised in the Mennonite church. Community is a concept greatly valued, and I learned about the responsibilities and joys of being committed to being part of a community.

DC: Who are your primary “influencers” or inspirations in the sustainability movement?
The global food sovereignty movement. The former U.N. special rapporteur on food Olivier de Schutter, La Via Campesina, Food First, and all the small scale farmer groups across Africa. The production of food is such an important aspect of how we engage with the environment, of how we live as part of this world.

DC: Did you have any mentors or career coaches assist you in developing your career path?
I've been blessed with fantastic supervisors and colleagues throughout my career, many of whom have acted as mentors.

DC: If so, what made those mentorship relationships work?
I've come around to having something of a phased approach in how I approach seeking out mentors. At the beginning of entering a new workplace (or new field, which I've done several times), I look for folks with whom I have a good connection, who are doing work that I find interesting and who seem to work in ways that I would like to emulate. I take time to get accustomed, get to know the broader network of colleagues and collaborators, and start to develop specific questions (how to navigate particular aspects such as age, gender, or sexual identity if those seem to be a factor; how to best position myself for whatever trajectory I've identified, etc.). If my initial mentors don't seem well positioned to speak to those issues, I'll look for others in the broader network and ask if they'd be willing to meet for tea and a chat. Sometimes this is just a one-off, sometimes this leads to on-going conversations.

DC: How important do you feel obtaining project-based leadership experience is when entering the workforce?
DS: What's most important is to experience how messy most projects become. Leading on a project means you get to experience that mess up close and be responsible for it. When you encounter future messy projects at work, it won't be so unnerving.

DC: What would you recommend to students who want to make a difference for sustainability in your sector?
I'm back in an academic setting now, so the NWF EcoLeaders program is a great resource! More broadly, identify what you are passionate about, start to engage with others around that, and then be open ... lots of folks won't share your passions or concerns, but they'll have their own, and you might find unexpected connections, or find that your passions and concerns shift through the experience.

Habitat and Wildlife

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Date Added: May 15, 2017
Date Last Modified: May 15, 2017