Mimi Lam, Human Dimensions of Fisheries
From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2011. Profile circa 2010.
Current: Research Associate, UBC Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, others
Ph.D. Dalhousie University
B.Sc. Honours University of British Columbia
Dr. Lam served as an ESA Council Member-at-Large from 2011 to 2013, and as Chair of the Traditional Ecological Knowledge section 2008-2011.
Describe what you do and briefly describe the activities that your job encompasses
My primary professional activities are innovating research, networking, fund-raising, and collaborating with and mentoring others.
Applying my theoretical research on the evolution of human cognition and behavior, I investigate the human dimensions of fisheries, articulating cognitive, socio-economic, and cultural values in science and policy, particularly in human and restoration ecology.
I also explore diverse contexts of human learning, in culturally responsive curricular design, the evolutionary origins and social construction of traditional ecological knowledge and sense of place, and community service projects with local Asian and indigenous communities.
What do you love most about your job?
With effective research autonomy and mentoring by UBC Professor Tony J. Pitcher, Fisheries Ecosystems Restoration Research (FERR) Supervisor, I can pursue my varied interests, which are strongly interdisciplinary, while engaging with a stimulating research community.
Interfacing with diverse colleagues with complementary strengths and interests pushes me to constantly challenge myself intellectually, while providing meaning to the work that I do.
Briefly describe your job path.
I concentrated on the physical sciences for my degrees and postdoctoral research, worked as a business consultant in technology, taught chemistry and mathematics as a college instructor, but became interested in the human sciences while designing holistic, experiential, culturally responsive curricula and investigating the roles of our natural and cultural environments in how we learn, so as a university researcher, I now specialize in the evolution of human cognition and behavior and the human dimensions of fisheries, as examples of coupled human and natural systems.
What challenges did you need to overcome?
Both shifting research concentrations from the physical to human sciences and transcending cultural barriers related to my Chinese ancestry and service work with indigenous communities have been particularly challenging in the discipline-focused, western-oriented academy.
But the academic tide is shifting to a culturally inclusive, interdisciplinary approach, as in the UBC College for Interdisciplinary Studies, where the Fisheries Centre is now housed, and the UBC Centre for Human Evolution, Cognition, and Culture, where I am also an Associate.
What’s one thing you hope to do in the future?
Establish the viability and benefits of a holistic approach to research that transcends disciplinary, cultural, gender, and socio-economic class boundaries, by demonstrating another way to succeed academically, one that values synergistic creativity within both the individual and the group.
I hope to contribute to a new academic culture that values diverse communities of scholars and diverse ways of knowing, where compassion and scholarship can unite, without loss of intellectual rigor or spirit.
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party?
I research the relationships between people and their environments, particularly in the context of how people learn and adapt to change.
I also study what makes humans unique from other species, in their cognitive abilities and behaviors, so am interested in human values, beliefs, and attitudes.
By researching scenarios today and of our evolutionary past, I am dedicated to informing individual, community, and societal decision-making towards a more sustainable and just future for all.
What is your family background and what did they think of your career choice?
My parents were born in neighboring rural villages in Xinhui, Guangdong, China. Their families were extremely poor and so after marriage, they immigrated to Canada, where my dad worked as a cook and my mom, as a farm laborer and cannery worker. They encouraged all of their children (six) to seek higher education and all of us have university degrees, three with doctorates.
I think they are pleased that I have pursued a career in higher education that makes me happy, despite that I have difficulty explaining to them precisely what I do, given my rudimentary Chinese!
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist (or other profession)?
I was inspired to become a scientist during my summer undergraduate research experiences, when I developed a passion for the intellectual thrill of scientific discovery and experienced the fun socially of being with other scientific types. Importantly, I also learned that not all scientists are dead, as I had thought from my course studies!
Who currently inspires you?
U.S. President Barack H. Obama, UBC President Stephen J. Toope, UBC Fisheries Centre (FC) Director U. Rashid Sumaila, and UBC FC FERR Supervisor Tony J. Pitcher: all are respected scholars and compassionate leaders who, in pushing themselves to best serve their respective communities, create spaces for others to thrive. They inspire me to be my best self, an independent thinker embedded in a common humanity, which is, I believe, the essence of human creativity and societal grace.
What is the most valuable advice a mentor gave you or that you would offer to someone who’d like to do the same job as you?
My UBC B.Sc. Honours thesis supervisor, Professor Michael C. L. Gerry, said to me when I was a fourth-year undergraduate: “When it stops being fun, quit!” I doubt that this is popular advice and it certainly made my academic path unconventional and bumpy, but if followed: your professional journey will be authentic to your true passion in life and will allow you to discover who you are spiritually, which is a gift.
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist (or other profession)?
For me, the ultimate success in my life as a scientist would be that I was able to be a compassionate and genuine human being, while also advancing a scholarly career.
How do you feel your work has contributed to society?
By defining a career path that maintains my personal integrity as a minority person, a woman of Chinese ancestry, from an underprivileged background, who can also be valued equally as a scholar, I have shaped my professional life and work to promote science in the service of all members of society, not just those from privileged classes.
“Specifically, I have dedicated my research to understanding human relationships with our environments to promote sustainable societal policy decisions and my teaching and service to promote a diverse academy and an educated and just civil society.”