Dr. Jennifer Holzer joined the ESRC in February 2020 as a post-doctoral fellow in the Water Resilience Lab working with Dr. Julia Baird and has recently been appointed as an Adjunct Professor in the ESRC. Jen’s doctoral work evaluated the research-implementation gap in social-ecological research in Europe using case studies in Spain, Scotland, and Romania, and provided recommendations that fed directly into enhancing European research infrastructures.
What are your research areas of focus, and what was your journey like in getting to that area of focus?
In my current position, I am developing the following areas of focus:
- Developing and applying a decision support framework for ecosystem services governance at the landscape level
- Designing effective participatory processes for environmental governance
- Using social network analysis to understand knowledge flows, decision-making processes, and power dynamics of environmental governance
- Using agent-based modeling to uncover links between attitudes about resilience and pro-environmental behaviors
- Developing a tool to assess ‘sense of place’ globally
My previous (and ongoing) research focused on:
- Evaluation of transdisciplinary environmental research
- Bridging the gap between environmental / sustainability science and policy
- Integration of social sciences with natural science research
It’s been a winding road from being a teenage environmental activist to where I am today. After some years as an environmental project manager, I returned to academia for a PhD that I hoped would bring me closer to conservation. As a project manager, I had become focused on energy efficiency, which is a crucial aspect of climate work, but I wanted my focus to be closer to the natural world.
My PhD project was linked to a four-year EU grant to audit social-ecological research platforms in Europe. So the project was an interesting confluence of social ecology, conservation, sustainability, and science and technology studies. I had the opportunity to work with scientists from the European Long-Term Ecological Research network, and to be hosted by some of these colleagues for field research in Europe. It was fascinating, and I was hooked! I also learned a lot about what it means to manage an international environmental research network, so when the opportunity came up to work within a similar research network in Canada (ResNet) – in its startup phase — I jumped at the opportunity.
As a sustainability scientist, how do you view the world?
Everything is connected. A person’s mood or outlook can influence whether they decide to spend time in nature, and whether they spend time in nature can influence whether they want to help protect nature. Also, I’m a book person and I love learning for the sake of learning, but it’s important to me that what we learn be applied in the real world. The gap between science and practice is a deep concern, especially in these strange times where there is a strong anti-science movement.
I also worry about whether taking care of the environment is a luxury. We are human first, paying bills, taking care of our families, and safety and security will always come first. Sometimes I lament that as long as we don’t feel completely reliant upon and intertwined with the natural world, we’ll never be able to prioritize taking care of it.
Perhaps most importantly, I think optimism is a prerequisite to being a sustainability scientist. The bad news about environmental degradation and predictions about the future can be overwhelming. So, there is a moral aspect to a sustainability view of the world. I do believe that we, as humans, are obligated to care for our planet, both as a collective and as individuals. What this looks like is going to be different for everyone, depending on where and how you live and the resources available to you.
What excites you the most about working with the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre at Brock University?
I am excited about working in a context where ideas like sustainability and resilience are the starting point! And I’m excited about working with such great people — both in terms of their scholarship and being enjoyable to work with. Everyone seems to have their own quirky sense of humor!
This is my first time working at a dedicated centre for environmental sustainability, so there are built-in applications to our research. The ESRC has made great efforts to build partnerships with local governments and environmental organizations. I’m looking forward to having results from my first studies and figuring out if we can take it a step further and find a way to apply our findings in the real world. Finally, it’s fascinating for me to work in Canada. From an environmental perspective, the Middle East (where I did my PhD) is a place of scarcity when it comes to water and other key natural resources, and Canada is so rich in natural resources that it’s bound to imbue me with quite a different perspective.