NSERC Chair for
Women in Science & Engineering

Helen Baulch

Dr. Helen Baulch

If you’re interested, you should try out science or engineering.

Assistant Professor
Centennial Chair, Aquatic Ecosystem Biogeochemistry
University of Saskatchewan

I am a solutions-oriented aquatic biogeochemist. My work centers on stressors affecting aquatic ecosystems, with the goal of contributing to improved stewardship of aquatic ecosystems and their watersheds. Research in my group focuses on regional, national, and global-scale issues, including greenhouse gas emissions from aquatic ecosystems, effects of urban and agricultural activity on hydrology and nutrients, ecosystem recovery from stressors, climate change impacts on aquatic ecosystems, dam management, and harmful blooms.

From an early age – I spent life on the water –with every summer spent on Lake Huron. I studied Biology at the University of Waterloo, and then went on to the University of Alberta, where I studied with Dave Schindler. After my masters, I spent time working as an intern in Sri Lanka, and working as a biologist at the Experimental Lakes Area. Finally, I returned to school for my PhD at Trent University, where I studied the impact of nitrogen on greenhouse gas emissions from rivers and streams. I did a short postdoc at Trent, then the University of Wisconsin-Madison, before starting my faculty position at the University of Saskatchewan, in the School of Environment and Sustainability, and Global Institute for Water Security. I’m the mom of two small kids. They also love to spend time on the water – with their first backcountry canoe trip completed this summer, and more time on Lake Huron in the plans.

As an academic, what is your favourite part of your job?

It’s hard to choose a favourite! I like thinking about problems, ideas, solutions, and about experimental design. I like engaging with students, and helping them with their work. I like working with partners in government and industry discussing what we know, and what we need to know to foster better water management.

What are you researching and what excites you about it?
I’m working on a variety of projects that link to nutrient biogeochemistry and surface water quality. What excites me is that nutrients are a major stressor affecting water quality – but that our work is aiming to look to solutions – to help reduce nutrient loading in the medium to longer-term, and to help adapt to our current issues in the short-term.

What types of professions can students graduating in your field enter?

Students have successfully landed in jobs that include research, lab management, consulting, outreach, government and environmental monitoring.

Is your workplace male-dominated? If so, how do you negotiate being a woman in a male-dominated workplace and/or field?

Yes and no. There are some meetings and groups I engage with that are male-dominated – but the opposite is also true. I’ve been very fortunate in my career – I’ve always been treated as a peer and felt my skills and opinions have been valued. It can be a juggling act – with two small children and a busy job, but I enjoy it, and pour a lot into all aspects of the juggling.

How do you foster and encourage diversity in your workplace?

I create a culture of support and cross-mentorship in our group. Most importantly – we’re all peers. I try to understand different goals, talents, and challenges of everyone, including myself.

What kinds of systemic support could institutions provide to help encourage girls and women to pursue careers in science and engineering?

One of the key things I’ve read about, and experienced in my own career is the importance of access to a mentor. I was very lucky in having access to a mentor in my undergraduate, and throughout my career. Experiences like undergraduate research projects which allow students to work more closely with faculty seem to help both inspire interest, and confidence in the ability to pursue a career in science or engineering.

What advice would you give to girls or young women who are interested in careers in science or engineering?

First -- that I love my job. Second if you’re interested, you should try out science or engineering. See if you can get work or volunteer experience in the field – and, find a mentor!

As a professional in science or engineering, who are your role models and mentors?

I’ve had a variety of role models and mentors through the years both men and women. They’ve included professors in LARGE classes, who somehow reached me, my first research mentor during my undergraduate, my graduate advisors, and just other scientists I’ve watched and admired. I see key moments in my career that led me to my path – and they’ve all centered on having a mentor or a role model!