What to do with an environmental/geography degree? Enforcement Researcher

Jonathan De Iuliis is a Researcher for the Enforcement Division Business Support Office at the City of Mississauga. He graduated with a Spec. Hons. B.A. in Geography and Urban Studies in 2016 and an M.A. in Geography in 2020.

Where do you work and what do you do?

The business support office provides business and policy support to the four sections of the Enforcement Division that include; Parking and Animal Services, Mobile Licensing, and Compliance and Business Licensing. As a researcher I am responsible for conducting research on enforcement initiatives and related projects to respond to requests from council and upper levels of management. My position requires me to manage a network roaster of jurisdictional contacts across north america to investigate and benchmark by-law related issues, new initiatives, and best practices.

Tell us your work journey after the degree: what went well? What was challenging?

After my Bachelors degree I had quit my retail job to focus all my energy on my MA. After my BA degree and while I was in the MA program I questioned what job I wanted or what would even be available for me. I balanced working construction and conducting my MA for a year and a half, which was both a physical and mental toll.

Fortunately, late into my second year of the MA program there was an internship available at the City of Mississauga for the role of a policy intern. The successful candidate would work directly with a policy analyst in the Enforcement Division. I applied not really knowing what the job required or if I could even meet the qualifications, it would be my first real position in something related to my area of study and I wanted it badly. I was given an interview opportunity and was later offered the internship. I felt confident in my abilities and although I might have not been familiar with the topics of municipal by-law enforcement I knew my research background would make me a valuable member of the team. My ability to remain positive and confident while working along side veterans in the field had caused management to realize the value I could bring to the team and I was offer two contract extension before being offered a full time permanent position as researcher in late 2019.

I think both timing and opportunity went well for me. I was at a point in my MA program where I could work full time as I had completed my required courses and the Business Support Office was beginning to grow as the Division realized its potential. But even after attaining my degrees I think what remains challenging for me is the way young professionals are looked at in the work place and how people choose to value the degrees we may hold. For many workplaces' processes and approaches have not been changed for years so people can often feel threatened by new innovative ideas and young professionals applying new perspectives from diverse educational backgrounds. Many people initially questioned my qualifications to successfully fill the researcher role with a background in geography, but I feel that it is the person that defines the value of the degree and that includes their skill set and the approaches they bring to the workplace.

How did you use what you learned? When did you feel like “I wish that they had taught me about this in university!”

My post-secondary education, in my opinion, was crucial to my success in my current role as a researcher. Regardless of topic, both of my degrees taught me the process of conducting well thought out research while incorporating a mixture of methodologies. At first people within the workplace questioned what value I could add to municipal government with a background in geography and although that intimidated me in the beginning, I learned that it was a great opportunity to show people how dynamic the geography program allowed me to be, not only in school but in the workplace. I value every course and professor from the programs in both my degrees as they showed me the value in diverse methods and approaches that each complemented one another. I do wish however I had capitalized on more GIS courses - within the city there is so much going on in so many different departments and each one of them depend on GIS to develop mapping strategies and create efficiencies with the organization. I think the only “I wish that they had taught me about this in university!” moment I had was wanting the university to display to students the diverse workplaces available and related to the geography program and the opportunities that are available to each student.

Thinking back to when you were in high school, what made you want to get into this? How does what you are doing match, and differ, from what you thought?

For most of high school I was sure I would enter a trade and work in construction but after doing a co-op in grade 11 I realized that school might offer me more opportunities. This left me with a year to figure out what post-secondary option I wanted to pursue and to find a program I was interested in. I was always fascinated as to how a city operates from an organizational aspect, but I was more interested in how the public operates within the their city. Analyzing how the public interacts with space, how they might take to the streets and demand justice, or the routes of their Sunday strolls. I accepted my offer to the geography program not really understanding its potential but I realized very quickly that it was exactly what interested me; analyzing the publicness of space and how a city operates from both the perspective of an organization and from its citizens.

Schooling was always very difficult for me, whether it be a lack of interest or fear of not succeeding, growing up, I did not think post-secondary was right for me. But looking back at it now I guess I was wrong, from my bachelors to my MA degree I continue to learn and value the journey I have been on. For me, I now have the ability to contribute to the academic world while also playing a critical role within a municipality where I can merge my education with my interest and contribute to successful city building.

Any other advice for people thinking of an undergrad environmental degree?

I did my undergrad in geography but nonetheless I think its important to recognize the value you bring to a degree. Be confident in your ability to learn new topics, approaches, and opinions, develop relationships with your fellow students and professors. These are relationships that are not only beneficial to you succeeding in your courses but some of these relationships even last well beyond your graduation. Douglas Young and Alison Bain were instrumental professors to my post-secondary education and to my career. I still keep close contact with the both of them and without either of them I would not have had the confidence to conduct my MA let alone excel in it.

Never be afraid to ask for help. My high school education did not prepare me for the processes and learning techniques of post-secondary and often times when I felt incapable I didn't know what to do. After convincing myself, I reached out to help centers, fellow students, and even professors. There comes a point when you have to realize that you are surrounded by a community of like minded and willing individual so don't be afraid to engage with them!