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Wanli Wu, PhD


Parks Canada in Vancouver, British Columbia


After completing his undergraduate studies in Physical Geography and his master’s degree in Environmental Geoscience, Dr. Wanli Wu decided to shift the focus of his doctoral research and specialize in landscape ecology at the University of Nebraska. Now an ecosystem scientist for Parks Canada, he is responsible for conducting ecological monitoring, reviewing state of parks reports and consulting on environmental impact assessments in Canadian national parks. Over the course of his career, Wu has worked in many national parks and historic sites located in various regions, including the arctic, central grassland and coast mountains.

1. What resources offered by your university helped you find a job after graduation?

The Geography Department at Peking University offered comprehensive and high quality programs that allowed me to build my geographical knowledge and skills. During the four years of my undergraduate studies, I took courses in other fields as well, such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology, geology, economics, and computer science. Opportunities to do hands-on fieldwork also provided me with practical skills and tools that have been useful in my professional work.

2. Looking back, what would you have done differently?

If I had more time, I would have taken a few more social science, business, and law courses. While pursuing my doctoral degree, I was fortunate to have a supervisor who supported my desire to expand my research interests, which allowed me to take courses in other departments, such as hydrogeology and water modeling. When I taught university courses, I always encouraged my students to look beyond what their programs had to offer to see if there were any other classes that would be useful for their future career development, especially in applied sciences.

3. Describe the relevance of your university classes in the real world setting?

There are several courses that are very useful. When you study physical geography, GIS is an indispensable course. A remote sensing class is also important to understand spatial patterns and changes at landscape and regional scales. Knowledge gained from those courses, along with field trips that focussed on soil geography, hydrology, plant geography, GIS and spatial mapping, have been applicable throughout my career at different levels and in various organizations. For anyone looking for environmental jobs related to fieldwork, I recommend taking classes in geology, GIS, remote sensing, soil science, biology, and hydrology.

4. Do you have any advice for students wishing to attain a fulfilling career in geography?

Try your best to get involved in courses and activities that include fieldwork because they will provide opportunities for you to develop hands-on skills. Fieldwork is one of the most effective ways to understand what you are learning in the classroom. While teaching, I tried all sorts of ways to get students out of the classroom in order to witness and understand the realities of the world. For instance, things like soil structure and texture may seem confusing in class, but they become more easily understood during a field trip. Once students are in the field, they can jump into a soil pit, take a block of soil sample and play with the dirt to gain real first-hand experience.  My students were also encouraged to take advantage of online videos and other virtual resources that may be useful for the study of geography.

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