Meet Hannah James & Michelle D’Souza

Feb 27, 2019 | Field Blog

Hannah James has more than 15 years of experience in journalism and communications. She has produced national TV documentaries covering a range of Indigenous rights issues, and has written about Truth and Reconciliation. Dr. Michelle D’Souza has seven years of experience working with local communities on biodiversity projects in Central America as a science researcher and communicator. Together, they make up ARCBIO’s media team. 

Q&A with media team, Hannah James & Michelle D’Souza

Q: Tell us how you came together as a media team?

Hannah: I first met Michelle when I was assigned to interview her about her postdoctoral research in Kruger National Park in South Africa, where she is studying insect biodiversity. I was fascinated by her work, and how it fit into the larger mission of the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics and the International Barcode of Life Consortium (iBOL). I left our conversation feeling inspired by Michelle and all that she shared with me. Not long after, Michelle introduced me to Prof. Paul Hebert, CBG’s Director. To my surprise, my enthusiasm led to a job offer. With Michelle’s scientific knowledge and creativity and my passion for storytelling, I think we make a great team.

With Michelle’s scientific knowledge and creativity and my passion for media and storytelling, I think we make a powerful team.

Hannah James

Michelle: I’m currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics (CBG) and I first met Hannah working on the Kruger Malaise Program that I help coordinate from Guelph with our collaborators in South Africa. She approached me in September 2018 looking to write a press release on the program. After just 30 minutes together we felt like friends. She told me about her exciting past in investigative journalism; I told her about DNA barcoding and my desire to incorporate a more diverse set of media tools to help communicate CBG’s vision to a wider audience. Only three months later, we formed the media team at CBG and, now, we are on our first ‘assignment’ together – Arctic BIOSCAN. We are here in Nunavut, not only working together to help engage the community but also document and film the project!

We compliment each other so well, both in personality and skill set.

Michelle D'Souza

Q: Why is ARCBIO important to you?

Hannah: ARCBIO is important because I think the project is not only looking at Arctic biodiversity but it’s drawing on Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, or Inuit traditional knowledge, to help inform the project design. I believe the intersection of science and community is becoming increasingly important.  Whether it’s working with traditional knowledge keepers, or working with young people who might be interested in getting hands-on scientific field experience, or to be able to answer questions about changes in Arctic biodiversity through data sharing, ARCBIO is a project that aims to give back to the communities it works with.

Michelle: I immigrated to Canada in 2000. Since then my family has travelled to every corner of the country, except its North. For me, personally, ARCBIO represents my two worlds coming together in harmony – me as an immigrant to Canada learning more about the history of this land and its people, as well as me as a young scientist learning about the fragility of northern ecosystems and working to help address the challenges that lie ahead. Being able to tackle these issues along side the people that have lived here since time immemorial is a true privilege.

Q: What has been the most challenging part of the trip so far?

Hannah: Filming outdoors in the Arctic in February! While I may be wrapped in my parka, my camera gear tends to freeze up with minus 50 temperatures. It has been a fun challenge, but definitely next time I will buy a parka for my camera to wear.

Michelle:  I am the youngest among the four in my team. I am straddling the line between Alex (as a biologist) and Hannah (as a media specialist) – learning from them and finding a balance that is my own can be quite challenging but it is what I aspire to achieve. 

Q: What has been a highlight of this trip for you?

Hannah: For me, meeting some of the Elders and their families and having the privilege of listening to their stories and knowledge has been unforgettable.

Michelle: The highlight of this trip was going out onto the land with a local guide named Ipeelie and truly understanding what it means to be cold. I have a renewed appreciation for the adaptability of life.

Q: What do you want to accomplish as a team for ARCBIO and in a larger context?

Hannah: I hope we can open the lines of communication and collaboration for ARCBIO with anyone who might be interested. I think these new relationships are so important and need to be nurtured in new ways that I hope Michelle and I can help support through our communications activities.

Michelle: I want to show scientists, northern communities and the public what it means to be a team of researchers working together with local communities to tackle our shared issues in the North. I want to do this by embracing all the power of science research, local storytelling, and media.

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