Blog Contributor: Erica Harper
After one year in the Master of Sustainability program at Brock, I’ve learned a lot about myself, the world around me, and how to be the best environmental steward I can be. Brock has provided me with the opportunity to develop not only as a student, but as a person in this everchanging and complex world we live in. For context, I have a business degree from St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia where I specialized in marketing because I have a passion for communicating important information into easy-to-read messages. To be honest, I never imagined going back to school when I graduated in 2018, but the state of the world, its animals, and ecosystems was troubling to me. I wanted to make a difference specifically in the corporate world because I knew that corporations were responsible for a significant portion of the world’s pollution. Therefore, to make this positive difference that I so badly wanted to make, I had to gain knowledge, skills, and connections that would allow me to do. This is where my journey with Brock’s Masters of Sustainability program began.
Here are three important lessons I’ve learned in the program so far:
- Imposter syndrome is normal, but it cannot take over your thoughts
As someone without a science background, I was nervous to be perceived as an “imposter” or as someone who simply didn’t fit in as a business major. That being said, on my first day in Dr. Jessica Blythe’s Foundations of Sustainability Science course, she said everything I needed to hear to be a confident and prepared student in the program. She spoke about imposter syndrome and how it’s normal to feel as though you’re not ready or even qualified for the next step in your life, but to ignore those thoughts and to keep going because she knew that everyone in the program had what it took be successful. Simply having a professor telling their students that they believe in them and that they belong is enough to encourage stressed, confused, and worried students as they try to get used to a new school and program. I felt as though Dr. Blythe was speaking right to me even though she didn’t know much about me yet, and that was the most comforting thing to me. I learned that she was definitely right – imposter syndrome is normal, but the most important thing is to not let it take over your thoughts and be confident in your abilities. Even in rooms where I didn’t feel like I belonged, I forced myself to speak up, ask questions, and be as engaged as I could be, which is a lesson I will take with me no matter where I end up after graduation.
- Sustainability of all kinds cannot be achieved without collaboration
Collaboration is a word that is used so often in various contexts that it almost tends to lose its meaning. This program really showed me what collaboration was: working with people from different academic and cultural backgrounds through complex problems in society to achieve a well-rounded solution. Sustainability itself is extremely complicated because it is applicable to most fields of study, namely public health, sport management, ecology, urban design, and political science to name a few. The papers and research that we were exposed to throughout the year in our many classes including environmental sustainability education, research methods, transdisciplinary seminar, and climate change adaptation & transformation have demonstrated how interdisciplinary sustainable solutions are. Solutions cannot be thought of in a vacuum and collaboration is essential to ensure that the main pillars of sustainability are considered: social, economic, political, and environmental. Since most people are not an expert in all four areas, working together as a group of sustainability scientist with a wide variety of backgrounds proves to be the best way to come to a sustainability-oriented solution to any problem. I will continue to value different opinions, suggestions, and frameworks as I go through this program and enter the workforce because collaboration is a skill that is crucial in all aspects of life.
- You don’t have to fit into a “sustainability mould”
Starting a master’s program can be intimidating at first and fitting in with what seems “normal” within the world of sustainability can be especially tempting. I’ve learned to resist that urge and to do everything I possibility can to be sustainable without being too hard on myself. Of course, it was important for me to be aware of my own carbon footprint, but it was also important for me to take a step back and realize that I’m doing the best I can, even when the carbon footprint calculator tells me that if everyone lived like me, we would need 2.5 planets to survive. Once I had the opportunity to get to know my professors and learn more about the scholars in the field of sustainability science, I noticed that there are so many ways to fit under the “sustainable” label. It’s not just about never driving your car, being 100% zero-waste, only buying second hand, or only purchasing from 100% sustainable companies – it’s about doing what you can with the resources and knowledge you have in the moment. Although I aspire to do all of those things one day, for now my life looks a little more like this: walking instead of driving when possible, aiming to be low waste (not completely zero-waste), searching for thrift stores that I enjoy, and researching sustainable companies to buy from when I can. Living this way is what works for me at the moment and although I am constantly striving to be a little more sustainable with each passing month, I now know that trying to be the perfect image of sustainability is not sustainable for me right now.
Whether you are an incoming student in the program or someone who is simply curious about learning more about sustainability, I hope this article was helpful to you! Brock has been a great place for me to grow as a student and as a person in ways that I could not have envisioned a few years ago. I’m glad I made the leap into the Masters of Sustainability program and I’m excited to see where it will take me in the years to come!