Collaboration is key for Mélanie Lemire

To coincide with International Women’s Day, March 8, 2020, MEOPAR is spotlighting some of the incredible women from across the network, like early career researcher Mélanie Lemire, and the impactful work they do.

“People who live from the land, we have lots to learn from them,” says Mélanie Lemire. An associate professor in Université Laval’s department of Social and Preventative Medicine, she has been doing community-focused science for almost 20 years, concentrating on the study of environmental contaminants, ocean change and nutrition.

After earning an undergrad in microbiology, Lemire’s pursuit of her Master’s and PhD landed her in the Brazilian Amazon where she worked alongside fishers to study the link between environment and health through the consumption of fish, examining how local foods could counteract the harmful effects of mercury on human health. With 10 years abroad under her belt, she came back to Canada, where she planned to study agriculture and pesticides but wound up heading to—and falling for—the Arctic.

“I was very curious about better understanding the Indigenous realities of my own country. says Lemire, whose postdoc work with the late Éric Dewailly brought her to Nunavik, where she’s been applying interdisciplinary, participatory approaches to her research since 2010. “I felt passionate about Nunavik, they were really similar to my colleagues from the Amazon: they know the environment very well and have an exceptional sense of humour. We have a lot to learn from the Inuit, as we have a lot to learn from fishermen in the Amazon.”

“I was very curious about better understanding the Indigenous realities of my own country"

“It’s the only way to make better science and more useful science,” she says of the fundamental combination of traditional knowledge and science in her work. “It’s at this interface we can do something relevant.”

Lemire is currently involved a number of projects—including Manger notre Saint-Laurent with Réseau Québec Maritime—and most recently was named the Sentinel North Partnership Research Chair in Ecosystem Approaches to Health. Her link to MEOPAR comes thanks to a project led by postdocs Tiff-Annie Kenny and Sara Pedro, exploring how changes in the marine ecosystem will impact the diet security and health of the northern community of Qikiqtarjuaq. While doing the work is important to Lemire, acting as a mentor is just as essential, which is why she’s quick to point out Kenny and Pedro as the driving force behind the MEOPAR project.

“My master’s thesis director, Donna Mergler, she trained me to do militant science, science for the communities. She taught me how to work closely with communities so hopefully science can make a difference,” she says. “Accessing a university position is challenging, so having people to support you makes a difference. As a woman in research, Donna showed me that everything is possible. She was hired at UQAM in the ’70s and was the first woman to be hired as a professor at that time.”

Lemire also credits Dewailly for his impact on her work and the opportunities he offered as her mentor. It’s a role she aims to pay forward to the researchers she works alongside.

“These mentors play an amazing role in our training. The postdoc period is very tough. It’s very tough for mental health and there are a lot of uncertainties,” says Lemire. “We’ve learned a lot from our mentors, and we have to try to offer the same afterwards.”