My so-called post-doc life

By Danika Kleiber

Dr. Danika Kleiber recently completed a PhD on gender and fisheries with Project Seahorse. Over the next little while she’ll be documenting her post-doctoral life here on the blog. 

I submitted the final version of my PhD thesis from a coffee shop in Missoula, Montana. I’d promised my partner that we would spend the autumn in his hometown as we figured out where life would take us next, and Missoula was a scenic stop on our way to Corner Brook, Newfoundland. I was done my doctorate and now  I was moving into my in-laws’ basement in a remote part of Canada.  Yikes. (Important note: my in-laws are wonderful and generous people and I am very grateful for their willingness to put us up/put up with us. Hi, guys!)

The good news is that a basement can be a great place to figure out your next move. In November, out of the blue, WorldFish, an international research agency, asked me if I could do a short contract for them. They had received my CV from my colleague Dr. Yoshitaka Oda, who had asked for it in passing as I packed up my office at UBC’s Fisheries Centre and prepared for the cross-country move. Which goes to show you that opportunity takes many different forms.

WorldFish emailed me on a Thursday and wanted me to show up in Bangladesh the following Monday. It was a sudden and exciting opportunity. I figured I should keep my options open, so on the way out the door I applied for yet another job, a post-doc position at Memorial University. Four flights and 36 hours later, I landed in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. 

The first part of my contract was to participate in a consultative workshop of fisheries stakeholders. WorldFish was starting a five-year program to improve the sustainability of small-scale fisheries in Bangladesh. I was there because gender was on the agenda. I sat there hoping my PhD would prepare me to contribute to a workshop on a fishery I had only just started to read about, and a culture that I had never experienced before. 

The lessons I’d learned from my doctoral work were immediately useful. When alternative livelihoods were discussed as an important way to ease fishing pressure, I asked if that assumption was going to be tested because it wasn’t necessarily an effective strategy, as research has shown (thank you, Dr. Nick Hill). And when they formulated the project as comprising three pillars — science, management, and social issues — I had the critical background to realize that the strategy would be better reformulated to account for the scale and the connections between these different issues, something akin to Project Seahorse’s Onion World philosophy. 

The second and perhaps completely unsurprising legacy of my PhD was the confidence it has given me. After the workshop, I made a five-day field visit to cities and villages in Southern Bangladesh. I was given very little information about the plan or purpose of the trip so my mantra quickly became “roll with it.”  When visiting a fishing community our host suddenly turned to me and told me I could join a group of women to ask them questions. Our sightseeing trip had rapidly morphed into a rapid assessment.  Great. I knew exactly what I wanted to ask.

When for the third time in a community meeting I noticed that the women were standing behind us like colorful wallpaper, I insisted that our chairs be turned so we could face the carefully maintained divide between women and men head on. And at every meeting with government fisheries officials I did not hesitate to ask how they incorporated women and men into their community engagement efforts. 

I came back to Corner Brook two weeks later with a head full of ideas and an interview scheduled for the post-doc position at Memorial University.