Sustainability Scholar Spotlight: Hawa Sydique

Name: Hawa Sydique
Years of Experience: 20
Current Position: Manager of the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute

What was your dream job as a child?

I wanted to be a weather girl, and as I got older I thought, that’s rubbish, I want to be a newscaster.

Can you tell us about how your job advances sustainability?

The university has invested in these interdisciplinary areas and conservation is one of the lucky ones in that we have a physical presence at the university called the David Attenborough Building. So we are in something called CCI, Cambridge Conservation Initiative, 9 NGOs plus the university all sit in one place. And there is the university side of things, that’s what I manage.

What was your career path from graduate school to what you are doing now?

I did an MBA, and out of my MBA I got a job with Goldman Sachs. And I stayed there for a few years, and then I moved to an NGO who was being sponsored by Goldman Sachs. I just had to do it, I felt like my life wasn’t meaningful being in Goldman Sachs any longer. The NGO was in Cambridge so I moved from London to Cambridge for this job, and I spent about 5 years there. Then I joined the university working with an interdisciplinary program working with researchers in specific Africa programs and bringing them together with researchers in the UK, which was great for a while. Then I met my now boss. When I started out in sustainability I always had an interest in the environment but the main crux of all my jobs had been with people and so I didn’t think I was a fit for me and he really opened my vision to understand that people and the environment were different sides of the same coin and you need both to work together so solve some of these major crises.

What would you say are the top three skills you use in your job and how did you learn them?

I think project management. It’s a skill that once you’ve got it, you can adapt to use anywhere. And being able to problem solve and staying calm in those situations if you can, even if internally you feel like you’re not calm. I think being able to stay on top of technology is important as well for communications. And finally, networking. It’s first listening as you don’t have to be always heard, and then using what you’ve learned to network and not being afraid to send that email to someone and asking them to meet for coffee. I learned that by watching people and by getting a good mentor.

How do you transition into interdisciplinarity?

I think being open-minded and flexible about the opportunities that come your way, making sure that the people who are your sounding boards should come from a selection of backgrounds as well to help you think in a more diverse way. I think that’s essential. And taking risks. And if you fail, it’s okay.

What do you wish you had known when you entered the workforce?

At times you feel like you’re never going to make it. And you can. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Do the best you can and really believe in your capabilities. Life is also pretty short. Make sure that you do things that you remember. Live in the moment and experience the moment, because the moment goes quickly. Spend time with your family and friends, if you let it pass you by now it’s not something that you can get back.

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