Dana Decent is Manager of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation with the Faculty of Environment at University of Waterloo. She has a thriving career in environment and sustainability and her journey has had its own fair share of challenges. In this interview, Decent gives us the inside scoop on how she overcame life’s hurdles to arrive at where she currently is. She also shares useful advice for students who may be considering a similar career path.
What type of work does your current job involve?
I lead operations, managing communications, HR, and finance. This involves keeping our website up to date, leading social media, hiring staff and students, and ensuring we remain within budgets. I’m also leading a research project on the health impacts of flooding. I’ve talked with over 100 people in neighbourhoods affected by flooding to find their health impacts (e.g. anxiety), resulting impacts to the health system (e.g. doctor visits), and economic impacts (e.g. increased medications).
What inspired you to pursue this career path and how did you get started in this field?
I have always cared about the natural world and early on recognized we are all part of this world, not separate from it. I studied Environment and Business at the University of Waterloo and this was a very practical degree that helped me realize the importance of all stakeholders to make the changes we need to see. This encouraged me to work in a variety of sectors to more deeply understand sustainability challenges.
What are some of the challenges you faced in getting to where you are now and how did you overcome them?
Job hunting can be difficult, and you need to have a plan and really know yourself. You have to double check with yourself about your priorities and what kind of job you want – e.g. do you want to work for a particular company, or work somewhere that grows certain skills, or work somewhere in a specific location? One of the hardest things was turning down a job offer that came quickly because I knew it wasn’t the type of job that would cultivate the skills I was looking for – I really had to trust myself that I could get the type of job I was looking for, even though it took longer to find it.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I am finishing my masters degree next year. I study Sustainability Management at the University of Waterloo part time. I am also ramping up my French-speaking abilities, constantly challenging myself and learning.
What advice do you have for students who would like to pursue a career path that is similar to yours?
Think about what the pain point of others is. Don’t think it’s all about you. Ask others about the challenges they are facing and then think about how you can provide value to them, not how they can provide value to you. Keep in touch with people you admire and respect. Go out for coffee or tea especially when you’re not job-hunting. Send people interesting articles tailored to them. Follow your passions and ideally back them up with hard-skills, such as data management, GIS, or another language (e.g. French). This will help make you stand out in the crowd.