Minelle Mahtani

While still a senior in high school I signed up for a course in visual landscape perception at Harvard University’s summer school. The professor introduced me to a new way of looking at geography. I had never before considered how the space we are in affects who we are. These new concepts of the way people act in different spaces stimulated my interest, however, it was not until later that I pursued geography in a dedicated way. My next encounter with the topic of cultural geography occurred during my undergraduate study at the University of Toronto.

I chose an elective course called “Modern Urban Landscapes” because it appeared to be on the same topic as the one I had taken at Harvard summer school. My curiosity for the elective course grew and I abandoned my degree in International Development to continue undergraduate studies in social anthropology at Dalhousie University in Halifax. This is where I began to think about geography in a serious way even though the university had no geography department. I focused on feminist geography, which contemplates the relationship between space, identity, race, and gender.

When I was offered a scholarship to study these complex issues for my Ph.D. at University London College in the United Kingdom I felt I had found my intellectual home. Academic positions in the United States, Australia, and Canada as well as consulting contracts contributed to my experience base and I now work with interesting people doing exciting work in inclusive geographies and the environmental fields.

The work I do to create research papers helps me to stay up with the new information in my area of expertise. I also attend conferences, read extensively, and interact with colleagues to share information and discuss topics of mutual interest. I have also been fortunate to have mentors and advisors who provide valuable advice as well as scholarly support for my work. Social/cultural geography is a very wide field.

There is great potential and I like to think, “geographers can do anything”. My personal aspirations for the future include a hope that more diversity of people and especially more women of mixed racial and cultural backgrounds will enter the field of geography. We need this range of perspectives to expand our abilities to solve the problems of today and the future. One of the things I intend to do is continue to teach and research the topic of multicultural geography as well as write a book on the subject.

To begin a career in geography you need to be open to new ideas, eager and excited to think about the environment in new ways. Try to get the right mentors and choose your academic and professional leaders with care. The right leader will make a big difference to your experience in this field. The academic credentials are important of course, however, the personal attributes of determination and high standards will prove valuable in the long term.

It is a challenge to ensure my approach to work maintains a relationship to large and small spaces. I talk about geography all the time and communicate how the spaces where things happen relate to the environment. Other geographers take a more traditional approach to their role in geography. My emphasis is on how the element of space has an effect on day-to-day interactions. I enjoy the fascinating discussions that come out of my interactions with colleagues and clients.

As a professor, I am encouraged by the students in my classes who have a commitment to make the world a better place. During my travels, I also meet many interesting people and see different cultures. On a daily basis, all of the elements of my geographical interests are involved. People are part of the environment. It is important to consider not only how people affect the environment but also how the environment affects people.

My efforts to express my ideas on how our identities shift with changes in location have had multiple benefits. The most obvious is the growing acceptance of the concepts of multicultural geography. Another is the emerging trend for women to express their opinions in these areas and for these opinions to positively enhance both the people involved and the environment.