Lise Kay

Alumnus - Class of 2012


Current position: Senior Program Officer, Fisheries and Oceans Canada  
Co-op experience: Policy Analyst, Natural Resources Canada 
Academic background: Arts and Science, University of Guelph

Why did you choose Waterloo’s Master of Public Service program?

I heard about the MPS program in the context of it being an interdisciplinary master’s program, and my undergraduate degree (Bachelor of Arts and Science) was also interdisciplinary. I didn’t have a career plan, and I was attracted by the potential for a career where I would have a chance to work in various disciplines, and use my powers for good. I was also attracted to the fact that Waterloo’s MPS degree offered co-op work experience, because I knew that Waterloo had good co-op networks and support.

Tell us about your current position working for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

I am a policy analyst in the Global and Northern Affairs Bureau, working on international fisheries policy. Others in this small bureau work on international oceans policy, and arctic issues. Our role is to act as “subject matter experts” and to be a resource for others on our particular files. In order to become a subject matter expert, I have learned about Canada’s engagement with other countries, with regional fisheries management organizations such as the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), and with the UN and similar agencies, on how best to manage global fish and seafood resources. I provide briefing material on Canada’s positions on fisheries topics to other officers who travel to international meetings, as well as to senior management, for example if questions might be asked in the House of Commons about issues in the news.

How did the MPS program including your co-op experiences prepare you for a career?

The MPS program, both the coursework and the co-op work experience, prepared me for my work as a public servant in very tangible ways.

As someone who did not have a political science background, the coursework on how government works and the relationship between the bureaucracy and the politicians was very important. The coursework also shifted my thinking away from the academic mindset of writing 10 to 20 page papers exploring every aspect of an obscure concept. In government you have the have the ability to distill the salient facts down to a two page briefing note to provide decision makers with the information they need to move forward. The coursework made me a more well-rounded professional.

My co-op placement gave me insight into what kind of role in government might interest me, and what type of jobs I would want to apply for once I graduated. I worked as a junior policy analyst at Natural Resources Canada. I loved policy analysis; being able to research a subject and make recommendations on issues that affect the lives of Canadians felt like a good use of my particular combination of skills. The work I did in that position helped me develop a number of transferrable skills, too, which helped when I was applying for various jobs after graduation.

What has been your most exciting experience working in the public service?

In the past 6 months working at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, I have been fortunate to have worked on two files that led to two highlights of my career so far.

As a party to the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, Canada attends consultations of states parties to discuss the Fish Stocks Agreement and putting into practice around the world. Earlier this year I attended this conference at the UN headquarters in New York as part of the Canadian delegation, providing subject matter expert support to my director-general and a representative from Foreign Affairs. Representing Canada at an international meeting was a huge thrill.

I also been working on a bill that has been making its way through Parliament so that Canada can become party to another fisheries treaty, the Port State Measures Agreement. Because of this, I got to attend meetings at the House of Commons in an official capacity, when the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans was reviewing the bill this spring. I was also able to be present in the public gallery when the House of Commons passed the bill. It received Royal Assent on June 18, 2015, just before Parliament rose for the summer. 

What have you learned about yourself as a result of the program and your career?

I’ve learned that it’s important to me to have a career with variety, where I am learning new things and working on different issues, because I get restless otherwise. Going into public service also solidified for me that in order to feel satisfaction in my work, I have to be doing work that I can connect to positive impacts on the world, and those around me. That is my biggest motivator, and for me it’s what separates the work I do from an equivalent job in business or academia. The combination of interesting work and positive impact is what makes me look forward to going to the office every day.

What are your favourite MPS moments?

The guest speakers were a very enriching part of the classroom experience. These included Aboriginal elders, senior public servants, and more junior public servants who we could look at and think “maybe that’s where I’ll be in a few years.” The most memorable one, however, was the Governor General. The first MPS cohort started classes in September 2010, right after former UW president David Johnston had been named as the new Governor General, and he came in to speak to the inaugural class during orientation week. His talk focused on “doing the right thing, and doing the thing right.” As a graduate of Waterloo and a public servant, it has stayed in my mind that I want to live up to David Johnston’s hopes for our class.

Between our full course load of classes, I also used to visit Professor Sen during his office hours, and we had wide ranging discussions on “life, the universe and everything” (i.e. economics). 

What advice do you have for someone interested in taking the MPS program?

Go in with an open mind. Think about what you can bring to the table, about what in your background and skills makes you an asset. Then listen to the experiences and viewpoints of your classmates and professors, and recognize them for the valuable resource they are in building yourself into a well-rounded professional. The program teaches a lot of transferrable skills and broadly applicable principles, which are actually useful even if you ultimately do not choose a career in public service, but doubly so if you do.

And last but not least, get to know Waterloo and Kitchener while you’re there! Don’t just go home to Toronto every weekend, Toronto people. There is lots to appreciate, if you take the time to look.