Christy Arseneau is Science Director, Forest Health and Biodiversity, at the Atlantic Forestry Centre in Fredericton, New Brunswick. She is originally from Dalhousie, NB, and has a Bachelor of Science in Forestry from the University of New Brunswick and a Master of Forest Conservation from the University of Toronto.
As Science Director, she supports researchers in their work, from topics like genetics to land reclamation, and links local science to national policy.
Christy wants everyone, of all genders, to know that sometimes your career path isn’t as straight and predetermined as you’d think it to be - and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
When she was young, Christy was very much the kid who liked to look at trees, worms and everything outdoors.
This interest in the world and its species led to Christy deciding to be a vet. As an animal lover, she could get a dose of science and furry friends all at once, while still offering people an invaluable service.
“I wanted to be a vet initially. But, I learned the hard way that I’m not a fan of blood. So then I jumped to becoming a scientist who’d discover the cure for cancer.”
So, this pivot decided, when her university years rolled around Christy attended the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton as a biology major.
She spent her first two years of postsecondary focusing on biology, working as a server in the summer.
Around the two-year mark though, Christy increasingly observed how much fun her roommate was having as a forestry major: She would be out in the field, muddy boots and all, having a blast.
“I realized that I just was more drawn to the applied side of science,” Christy admits. “The microscopes and labs were fascinating, but I wanted to be more hands-on.”
With her credits transferred over, she launched onto a new path of being a forestry student.
Christy got a position related to her studies before her first term: “I landed a summer job at a mill almost right away. It was awesome to find work directly related to what I was going to study.”
Words of support for aspiring scientists and professionals
Christy admits that she has had a pretty good run of things.
Having experience at multiple levels of government, she’s had the chance to see how women make careers for themselves in different situations.
While she herself finds great attitudes and fair conditions in her current position, she acknowledges that many don’t always have the same experience.
“While I was a forestry student working for a paper mill, there was a forest fire during the summer. I really wanted to get out there and experience fighting that fire!” Christy explains.
“Most of the woodlands team got to go, but I was told that ‘my safety couldn’t be guaranteed because I’m female’, so I missed out. I was young, inexperienced and didn’t question why I had to be denied an opportunity just because others didn’t know how to behave around a woman.”
Funny thing is: Christy, as a Science Director at NRCan, is now a voice in wildland fire.
She is the Canadian lead in the development of a North American Blueprint for Wildland Fire Science collaboration, and a large portion of her focus is directed towards fire science projects and initiatives.
She also notes that the work culture is changing. Soon, more women will find a home in the STEM field and make waves in their own way - with microscopes or pens!
A career with no regrets
Christy loves the forestry sector and the STEM field.
“Always trust your gut and follow your passion. A science degree can take you as far as you want it to! Don’t feel like you have to take something else ‘just because’. And, it’s OK to change your mind - it may seem huge at the time, but for me, it has worked out for the best.”
Sometimes a decision might seem scary or insurmountable.
But, hey: Maybe changing your program halfway through to follow your passion could be the best decision you ever make.