May Thazin Aung

May Thazin Aung at SEI Asia. Photo: Noraset Kunjara Na Ayudhya / SEI.

  • Q

    Why did you want to work at SEI?

    A

    I had just finished my master’s in environmental law and policy, and I wanted to work on a project in Myanmar after having worked previously on a project there developing environmental law. It was funny – the people who funded that Myanmar project kept in touch with me, and I met with them when I was interning at The Nature Conservancy. They said “oh, have you heard of SEI? We’re funding this project in Myanmar”. I emailed SEI and they happened to be looking for somebody to work on that project. That’s how I started here!

  • Q

    Do you still work on the same project, or has your role diversified?

    A

    I still work on that project, and it’s so rewarding because of how well I know it, the ins and outs, what we’ve achieved, and the partners in Myanmar who are as much a part of it as the SEI team is. But I’m also involved with other SEI projects like the fossil fuels initiative and the bioeconomy initiative. So I’ve had a taste of sampling different global SEI initiatives as well as being focused on one project.

  • Q

    How do you think you’ve developed as a researcher since joining SEI?

    A

    The people at SEI Asia have changed me because they’re really grounded in the research, the fieldwork, and the “development” portion of our mission statement. So now I’m always trying to look for projects that deal with social equity, addressing alternative livelihoods, and helping the rural poor. My interests aren’t as environment-heavy any more but really about the people, because the values of SEI Asia are rooted in the realities of people here.

    In terms of skills, I’ve developed a lot. My master’s was very much in-the-books with no practical experience. But in Myanmar we do all these multi-stakeholder consultations – we always go to the local government and tell them about the results. So I’ve grown through my facilitation skills, my ability to explain our research and our projects, and getting stakeholder input into research design. That has become really important to me.

    Having that personal relationship with partners and local governments changes the dynamic – it changes the power relation – and then it’s not so much about research any more, but about peer-to-peer information sharing. You can get a different kind of engagement because you have such a deep connection with the people you work with.

At a project kick-off meeting, May facilitates participatory approaches to identify biodiversity hotspots and development threats in the Chindwin River Basin. Photos: Thanapon Piman / SEI.

  • Q

    What was it like speaking at SEI Science Forum?

    A

    I was very happy to do it, but it was nerve-racking. It was something Centre Director Niall O’Connor and my line manager Oliver Johnson suggested – that I speak instead of them about the Chindwin project. So it was humbling to know they thought about me and wanted me to have that opportunity, and I felt I had a senior management system that really supported me. It also feels empowering to be a young Asian female from a developing country to be speaking in a very Swedish setting, set up with a minimalist style and a mostly Swedish audience!

  • Q

    What would you like to work towards in the coming years?

    A

    I think at SEI we have to do more work to define what we mean by “bridging science and policy”. I don’t think we do enough research on our communications and policy engagement methods and how they’re applied in all the regional contexts we work with. So I want to research what it means to have effective policy engagement, and that’s why I’m really interested in innovative communications and different ways to engage people. I hope that by working with communications and policy people from different centres who have similar interests I can work towards that kind of path at SEI.

  • Q

    What would you say to someone interested in joining SEI?

    A

    If you’re curious and have an interest in a topic, there are people at SEI who will support you in exploring and enriching your curiosity. I think that’s the best part about working here. You can explore your curiosity and turn it into research through the support of people around you.

May speaking at the SEI Science Forum in Stockholm, 2018. Photo: Anneli Sundin / SEI, Flickr.