Internship Spotlight: Lia Watson - Center for Human Rights and Environment

I am a third-year student in the Sustainability, Science, and Society program at McGill. My program covers many dimensions of sustainability, including earth system science, geography, anthropology, sociology, and political science. So far, I have greatly enjoyed how the diverse coursework reflects the inherent interdisciplinary nature of sustainability, and its importance across countless distinct areas of study. I am also completing an Urban Planning minor, and have a growing interest in food systems and urban agriculture.

This spring, I jumped at the chance to work on the F & F Lexicon, an independent project being run by Ana Maria Kleymeyer and her father. I did not receive academic credit for this internship.

The aim of the project was to draw attention to the connection between humans and the rest of nature by creating a website, searchable database, and various pieces of written content on the topic of faunamorphs and floramorphs. These terms (coined by Chuck Kleymeyer, one of my supervisors) are labels for the words, phrases, and expressions we use to describe human behaviour or characteristics using animal or plant terms, respectively. This kind of language is extremely common, and once you start paying attention, it’s clear to see how heavily humans rely on the natural world to describe and contextualize themselves. Common examples of this kind of language include adjectives like “catty” and “dogged”, and expressions such as “the early bird gets the worm”.

I feel strongly that re-defining humans as a part of the natural world, as opposed to a separate group with the right to control and exploit nature, is a key aspect of the transition to a more sustainable future. Without this shift in mindset, it would be difficult to convince anyone to sacrifice anything for the sake of the planet’s future. Thus, I was extremely excited to join this project, which is doing such interesting and unique work in this area.

Additionally, and more practically, the small size of the team was very appealing to me as a first-time intern, as I believed it would provide me with more guidance, learning opportunities, and chances to form genuine connections with my supervisors and colleagues.

I embarked on my internship with the goal of learning practical skills that would be applicable in a wide range of future contexts within my academic and professional career. Over the course of five months (from February to July), I accomplished that goal through the variety of tasks I completed as a member of the F & F team, including: taking concise and informative meeting notes, running weekly meetings, learning Excel editing and formatting skills as part of the process of creating the database, designing and drawing the project’s logo, and creating effective and engaging content for various social media accounts. One of the greatest highlights of this experience for me was the chance to create the logo, because of the combination of creative and practical skills required for the process.

There were also challenges throughout the internship, which were equally as educational as the fun parts, if not more so. One of the main issues I ran into was with the time management and self-motivation I needed to stay on track with my tasks. Because of my supervisor’s demanding career requiring extensive travel and the F & F Lexicon being a passion project, not an official organization, the internship ended up being mostly self-directed with minimal oversight or guidance aside from weekly meetings conducted via video chat, as the internship was also remote. As someone who has often struggled to keep myself accountable without another person to report to, this was a huge challenge for me and one of the main reasons for my earlier-than-planned departure from the team in early July. While this was a difficult aspect of the experience, it also taught me a lot about myself and my main challenges that I need to work on in order to improve in the future.

This internship profoundly affected my university experience, as I feel I am leaving not only with a variety of practical skills under my belt, but a better understanding of myself that I can carry into future opportunities.

The final aspect of this internship is a trip to a homestead in West Virginia where both my supervisors have spent significant time, called the Friends Wilderness Center. There, they practice permaculture, sustainable building, and live a mostly off-grid lifestyle that is in line with the mission of the F & F Lexicon. I am set to leave on this trip on August 18th, and I am confident it will be an incredibly meaningful and educational experience that would not be possible without the generous donors funding the Armando & Ann Manfredi Arts Internship Award that was given to me this year, chief among them Mr. Samuel. Thank you so much for making this wonderful opportunity available to me.

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