Interning at IISD: Grace Ma

My name is Grace Ma, and I am an incoming second-year student at McGill’s Faculty of Law. I graduated in 2021 from the University of Toronto with a Double Major in Environmental Science and English Literature. In law and beyond, my topics of interest revolve around environmental law and policy, just transition, poetry and the poetics of life.


Grace Ma holding a cup
Selfie on my first day of virtual work with the IISD. Taken in Montreal / Tiohtià꞉ke and diligently posted on social media.
I was very excited by the prospects of doing an internship with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) given their progressive, impact-driven research on the most pressing environmental issues of our time. A think tank based in Winnipeg, and with staff across the globe, the IISD’s mission is “to accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resources, and fair economies.”


Although I had undertaken a diversity of environment and sustainability related jobs, I had not had a chance of working in a think tank, let alone on more policy-related matters. Thus, when I was offered the position of Energy Intern with the IISD, I shaped my learning objectives as: develop policy analysis skills, become more well-versed with the state of Canada’s climate policy and energy sectors, and explore possible career options in environmental and climate policy work.


During my internship, I had two main responsibilities. The first was my main project, which was working on an economic poverty and inequality analysis of the measures outlined in Canada’s very first Emissions Reduction Plan. I focused on the first phase of the project, which was to scope it. Namely, I applied an existing global framework for poverty and inequality analysis (developed by IISD’s Energy Policy Tracker) and determined how many of the Canadian measures could be analyzed through already-established policy categories from the global framework and which ones would need new policy categories. I also conducted a case study on the poverty and inequality impact of Canada’s carbon pricing scheme. My second task was to conduct daily media scans of Canadian climate and energy policy news, which helped inform the Canadian energy team in their own research and projects regarding fossil fuel subsidies, oil and gas phaseout, etc.

a meeting room with a large square table and several chairs
Main conference room at IISD headquarters. I take my meetings in smaller rooms, but it is always nice to walk by this space when I am taking a break.

Grace Ma sitting at a desk at home
Even though when I was in Winnipeg I mostly worked in the IISD office, I found myself working in my (childhood) bedroom during some afternoons!
There were many highlights to my internship. I really enjoyed working with my supervisor on my main project: often, when I would lay out a confusion with her during our meetings, she would immediately pinpoint the root of my confusion. Additionally, she taught me a lot about the importance of pursuing an appropriate depth of focus: whilst it was important for me to not narrow my perspective, I also could not make it too wide, or else I would not be able to accomplish specific tasks. When it came to the media scans, I appreciated being able to improve my understanding of the Canadian energy landscape on a daily basis, it made me feel increasingly in tune with the important climate decisions being made in the country. Finally, I had the chance to work from the IISD headquarters in Winnipeg during my last month of the internship, which was a fantastic opportunity — I was able to interact with more IISD staff and develop a semi-regular office routine (only “semi” because I was also taking a summer course at the same time).

A desk and office chair
IISD workstations. The office space is rather quiet, as staff will usually take meetings in conference or individual meeting rooms. Additionally, the prairies sun is often shining very brightly!

The main challenge I encountered during my internship was related to time management and focus. Given the flexible nature of my main project, I found that if my supervisor and I didn’t set specific goals with a corresponding deadline, I would often struggle with staying focused, as my mind became scattered across all the different layers of the project. As the internship went on, I would check in more regularly with my supervisor on weekly intentions and the project’s progress in relation to its big picture, which I found helpful in grounding me in the tasks at hand.


My internship with the IISD has had a positive experience on my current law school experience, especially because I was able to deepen my interest in climate policy by concentrating on the energy sector (which, granted, is a very broad field). I also anticipate taking many of the skills I gained in policy analysis and media scanning into my legal studies, especially as it pertains to critical analysis and efficient reading habits. I should note that I did not receive academic credit for the internship.


Finally, I am deeply grateful for the funding I received for my IISD internship through the McGill Internship Award, which enhanced my financial security this summer. I also want to extend my gratitude for the McCall MacBain Scholarship for funding my legal studies at McGill.

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