Sue McKee

Tell us about yourself

I was born in a small town about 1.5 hours away from Ottawa and then moved to a smaller town about 2.5 hours away from Ottawa in Grade 8 until I finished high school. I moved to Ottawa as a young adult with my young daughter and worked for a few years before deciding to go back to school to University to do biology. For fun, I love to cycle and visit wetlands.

What is your research about?

My research is in environmental science and is a combination of science and law. I love it! I look at whether the Species at Risk Act is protecting animals, plants and other species that are endangered of becoming extinct. The Species at Risk Act is a law to protect species at risk of going extinct, like killer whales, little brown bats, Blanding’s turtles, woodland caribou, Tiger salamanders, White sturgeon, Monarch butterflies, and so many others. So just like you aren't allowed to drive through a red stop light, there are also laws that keep humans from further harming endangered species.

What have you enjoyed the most about your research?

My research tasks are varied and I help to inform the laws protecting species at risk – it doesn’t get better than this! My research includes training undergraduate students and sometimes high school students to do research. Undergraduate students and high school students help us pull the data we use in our analysis. I work with an incredible researcher on this project and together we write journal articles for publication and reports for various contracts we take on helping others protect species at risk.

“My research is in environmental science and is a combination of science and law. I love it!”

What have you found most challenging about your research?

I enjoy the intellectual challenges my research brings, however, there is one particular task that I find quite tedious. With anything you love there will be parts that are not as fun as others. A few times a year I have to do some checks of the data that we have students pull from reports. It’s tedious work but it’s necessary to ensure the accuracy and quality of the data, and therefore our analysis, results and conclusions.

How has your research experience influenced your career path?

My experiences throughout my life have all influenced my career path. My research in my honours year and in grad school made me realize how much I loved doing research. However, my volunteer work has always been what influenced my career path most. I became a volunteer with LTS back in 1998 because I love to teach children. When I was home with my young son I became a coordinator of the LTS program in Ottawa and from there became the national coordinator of the volunteer program for about 7 years. I started volunteering doing some statistics for a researcher while still working with LTS and realized I wanted to come back to research again, all the while staying volunteering with LTS. So here doing all the things I love - volunteering with LTS, doing research full time, and next year I’ll be helping to oversee the LTS program again in Ottawa.

How has your research impacted the world?

My research impacts species at risk of extinction in Canada. Although I don’t directly make changes to the law that protects species at risk, our research does give recommendations for improvements to the law. My colleague and I write for scientific journals, but we also inform the government of our findings and occasionally write our findings in newspaper articles for the general public.

What do you predict will be the next big breakthrough in your field of research?

My research is quite specific to the Species at Risk Act in Canada and we have had found some ways that the laws could be improved to better meet species’ needs. However, the methodology we use to do our research is somewhat unique and we believe could greatly assist other researchers who want to do research that requires gathering large amounts of data. We have recently written a manual on using our methodology that we hope to publish.

“My research impacts species at risk of extinction in Canada. ”

What motivates you to do research?

I did not always want to do research. I didn’t even particularly like science (biology, physics and chemistry) when I was in high school. I did love math, but mostly I loved gym and I was on most sports teams. I finished my Grade 12, went to college and worked for 5 years - I wasn’t ready for university when I left high school. I went back to school and then got my M.Sc. I had some amazing teachers along the way who greatly influenced where I am today. One of them is the researcher I currently work with.

Tell us about your 'Eureka' moment

I suppose my first Eureka moment was that I could do a degree in science! It’s a bit more difficult to go back to school as a single parent (I had a 5 year old daughter). I wanted to do it and knew it was the right time for me but I was still unsure whether I could pull it off. Once I was in university and ever since, I’ve kept the connections with those people who most influenced me. Connecting with others (to me) is what life is all about. Finding ways to help each other, help species at risk, help ourselves from damaging the earth, etc., these all require us to connect and be strong together even while sometimes we work alone.

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