A Quick Study with Sameer H. Shah

This ongoing series is aimed at getting to know what motivates and inspires UBC students about their learning — inside and outside the classroom.

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Sameer H. Shah

Meet Sameer H. Shah, M.Sc., PhD Student, Green College Member, Liu Scholar at the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability.


Why UBC?

SS: I came to UBC to study at the Institute for Resources, Environment & Sustainability (IRES) primarily because I am interested in producing policy-relevant scholarship that begins with a real-world problem. Most “environmental” challenges we face straddle multiple boundaries and involve studying everything from — in my case — climate change predictions, to hydrological modeling, to environmental governance and decision-making systems to understand impacts to, in my case, agriculturalists. It’s actually fascinating to be here each day and to learn about the research and interventions of others, from work on energy poverty, to marine conservation. It’s really a stimulating and collaborative environment at the forefront of environmental change scholarship.


How did you become involved with the EDGES Research Collaborative? What do you love most about the research you do there?

SS: The EDGES Research Collaborative is Professor Leila Harris’ research team of students and post-doctoral fellows at IRES. Naturally, being under her supervision, I became a contributing member of the Collaborative. The members of EDGES are incredibly diverse but brought together through themes of development, gender, equity, and sustainability. Many of us work on issues around water governance and access in the Global North and South and increasingly, a number of us are working on understanding the implications of environmental change on resource-dependent populations using frameworks, such as vulnerability and resilience. The thing I like most about working in the Collaborative is the fact that we’re pushing our own boundaries in how we’re thinking and analyzing human responses to environmental change, and specifically water access using cross-cutting and interdisciplinary concepts and theories. 


What sparked your interest in water access and management?

SS: I’ve always been interested in water-related management and issues. I started out with a keen interest in marine conservation in my undergraduate and was set on being a coral reef biologist. I even did an exchange to an Australian university to get closer to mangrove and coastal ecosystems. But immediately after that period in 2010, I spent 4 months in northern India working with an NGO on river conservation and ecosystem services of free-flowing Himalayan rivers. That was the starting point to becoming interested in how freshwater resources were being managed and allocated for different users, from agriculturalists to downstream users, to distant energy consumers.

Downstream Angat River

Upon returning back to Canada, I began studying more on large dam development in India and ended up writing my undergraduate thesis developing a new framework for assessing the sustainability of large river basin infrastructure for agriculture, energy, and water needs in India. This was really the launching point for my Master’s work at UBC, where I then became interested in how these large projects and their original benefit for irrigators were withstanding stress from climate shocks and rising urban demand. Now returning to my dissertation five years later, I’m going back to India with the hope of understanding how its second Green Revolution does and does not protect certain households from drought and other forms of environmental change. 

Rice farmers


How does your identity and roots tie in to the work you aspire to do?

SS: To be honest, it is the essential reason I have chosen to go back to India. Academic scholarship is not only about rationalizing and justifying specific nuances of case studies, situating it within broader debates and directions but it is also something that is deeply personal. I think it is the rediscovery of my identity and roots, not in the sense of visiting a country, but in the sense of being Indian, or being enmeshed within a country that I have been distanced from in multiple senses – physically, politically, and culturally — for most of my life.


Is there anyone who inspires you to pursue what you love? How have they influenced you?

SS: Of course, it has to be my parents. They wanted me to follow my passion and my heart down a path that I don’t even know will end. This sounds sort of cliché but I can assure you, from an Indian cultural context, it is not. I’m so thankful that they encourage me and continue to guide me – I’m not really sure where I’d be without them.  


What’s on your playlist these days?

SS: Ha! A lot of jazz, hip-hop, R&B, and mixes between all of them. Great for writing!

Sameer H. Shah


As a worldwide traveller and photographer, what is a memorable experience you could share from your travels?

SS: My time on the Ganges River in India in Rishikesh and Hardiwar is my most memorable experience. Common images of India for many people involve vibrancy of life, of sadhu’s and religious pilgrims, henna stained hands, bullock carts, and flashes of colour from Holi. These are vivid images that I remember fondly but even more so was being and living in a place where the river serves such as central role within the lives, within the being, of people — that is something so profound.

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