Sarah Saunders


Graduated from MREM in May 2015

Educational background:

BSc Marine Biology Honours, Dalhousie University

Current position:

Specialist, Marine Protection and Renewables, World Wildlife Fund Canada


Background & education:

I finished my undergraduate degree in marine biology back in 2004, but didn’t start working in the field right away. While I did do a couple of internships focused on marine biology in the Florida Keys and in the Philippines, I spent most of my time between undergrad and grad school teaching English as a second language in South Korea. While I enjoyed my time teaching I continued to be passionate about the ocean and conservation, and I always knew I wanted to go to graduate school. When I started researching schools I had a friend recommend the MREM program to me, and it seemed like the perfect fit.

How did you get to your current position?

I started at WWF-Canada as an intern as part of the MREM program, funded through the Sobey Fund for Oceans, researching standards for marine protected areas in Canada. After I finished school I did a short-term contract with WWF, looking into tidal energy development in Nova Scotia, and then began full time in June 2015 – just a few days after graduation. My work mainly focuses on increasing the number and quality of marine protected areas in Canada, and ensuring that marine renewable energy development is sustainable.

What skills did Dal help you develop?

The MREM program was fantastic because it was interdisciplinary – both in coursework required and in the background of the students taking it. Working in conservation you sometimes need to be a jack-of-all-trades, and this program helped me build skills in a variety of areas, including research, communications and working as part of a team. The program also helped me to see things from a variety of viewpoints – especially important since nature conservation doesn’t exist in a bubble. Coming from a science background it could be easy to just say “well, this is what nature needs” and push for that, but if you want to help both people and nature thrive you need to understand the sociopolitical implications of decision-making, and understand the legal and policy context that you are working in.

What’s your next big career goal?

I love working with WWF-Canada, and hope to continue growing my skills with them. It’s a fast-paced working environment, doing something I’m super passionate about, and I get to work with a fabulous team. It’s also great that I can mentor MREM students as an internship supervisor. One of my goals is to improve my community engagement skills so that I can better support coastal communities when engaging in marine protected area planning processes.

How was your experience in the MREM internship program?

Obviously, I had a great internship – working with WWF was something I could never have imagined doing were it not for this program. My Oceans colleagues really made me feel I was part of the team and not just an intern. The internship helped me grow my knowledge base, get real-world experience and learn more about what it was like to work in conservation. The MREM internship helped confirm that conservation was the field I truly wanted to work in, and was instrumental in starting my career.

Any advice for future MREM students?

Really make this program your own. While there is a set of required courses, you can use electives to shape the program you want. I focused mine on conservation, education and ocean issues. Directed studies can also help you really dive into topics that interest you. Don’t be afraid to take courses outside SRES – this is even encouraged by the faculty! Also, make sure you are a good team player. The MREM program involves a lot of group work, both within SRES and with the wider Faculty of Management, and helps build skills you will need working with others in the future. Be ready to embrace it.

Last words

Cherish the connections you make while at SRES – I’ve found SRESers at pretty much every meeting or conference I’ve attended over the past four years all across the country!