Meet Melina Damian.

This is Melina’s story…

What made you want to pursue a graduate degree in Environmental Studies?

I’ve always loved school. I’m from Caracas, Venezuela, and since I was young, I knew I wanted to study and work in the area of wildlife conservation. I’ve also always been concerned about plastic pollution. The Masters in Environmental Studies program at York University, Toronto (where I completed my degree) offered great internship opportunities. I ended up going to Costa Rica for three months as part of my graduate research, and there I had the chance to work in a variety of wildlife monitoring programs. When I returned to Toronto, my research then focused on the impacts of plastic pollution on marine turtles and double-crested cormorants (a type of bird native to North America). So, everything fitted just perfectly!

Do you see yourself staying in education or is a career in industry of interest to you? If so, what could you see yourself doing at the corporate level?

I currently have two jobs. I work full time at Ontario Nature, a charity that is focused on biodiversity conservation through education, conservation and public engagement, as the communications coordinator. And I’m also a part-time professor at Centennial College in Toronto, for the graduate course Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development from The Business School. 

I’m very happy working in my current fields. I will always be interested in teaching (I have a graduate diploma in Environmental Education), but I don’t think I plan on becoming a full-time professor any time in the near future. Perhaps later on I’ll consider pursuing a PhD and my interests will change, but I think working in the industry is essential, and I particularly enjoy working in the charity sector. 

How are you using your research to educate others?

I try to use social media to educate others. I think effective science communication is essential, so I always try to convey the information in an accessible and fun way. I usually post educational material about my research and plastic pollution in general on my Instagram account (@meli_damian). Also, in my free time, I speak about my research at different panels and webinars for environmental organizations when I get the opportunity. For instance, in January, I did a presentation about my research at a webinar for Peel Environmental Youth Alliance, in February I presented for Toronto Field Naturalists, and in May I have two other presentations lined up for Ontario Nature member groups.

Photo Credit to Yasmin Parodi. Dance Migration Photoshoot.

What’s it like being a professional dancer and scientist?!

It’s awesome! I’ve been a professional dancer for over five years, and I’ve been part of casual dance groups since I was 13 (I’m 26 now!). Last year, I joined Dance Migration, Toronto’s number 1 authentic Brazilian samba and entertainment company. I’ve grown a lot as a person and dancer ever since I started training with them. Dancing is my self-care, and it has taught me many skills that have been useful in many other areas of my life. For instance, in 2019 when I first got invited to give a guest lecture at York University for the course Introduction to Environmental Science, I was terrified of the thought of speaking in a lecture hall in front of approximately 300 students. I’m an introvert, plus English is not my first language. But when the day came, I realized I have good stage presence and self-confidence because of the many years I’ve been dancing in front of large crowds. I didn’t feel at all nervous, in fact, it felt easy and enjoyable presenting in front of that many people. So, if it wasn’t for my experience as a dancer, I would have never been able to give that guest lecture – or even thought of becoming a professor after!

It is my goal to merge dance and science communication in my Instagram account. I want to help break stereotypes in science. Dancing is an essential part of who I am, and I think we need to talk more openly about the transferable skills that scientists (and everyone!) can get from side hobbies or other interests outside of academia.

Get in touch with Melina:

 Instagram: @meli_damian

Twitter: @MelinaDamian1

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