Where Are They Now? Caleigh Aalders

A special anniversary series

Published On: June 12th, 2023

The POLIS Water Sustainability Project is turning 20 this year! We couldn’t have made it this far without the support of our colleagues, partners, advisors, funders, water leaders, and many many supporters across B.C. (and beyond!) who give their time and energy and continually champion the necessary and crucial work of water sustainability and watershed security. To celebrate some of the people who have made this milestone possible, POLIS Communications Director Laura Brandes got in touch with several “POLIS alumni” to find out what they’ve been up to since leaving POLIS, and to ask if there are lessons from their POLIS days that they still carry with them…

Caleigh Aalders worked as a research assistant at POLIS on and off from 2019 to 2022 as she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Victoria (and then started her master’s degree at York University). Caleigh is passionate about sustainable resource management, Indigenous rights and reconciliation, foreign relations, and human rights protection under international law. She will soon start a new job as a junior policy analyst with Natural Resources Canada, where her work will focus on the ongoing transformation of Canada’s energy systems. Caleigh is also an active musician and can sometimes be found performing at the Climate and the Arts Legacy Series, which POLIS’ Jon O’Riordan helped launch to bring climate stories to the forefront in creative ways.


Laura Brandes: What is your current job and how long have you been there? 

Caleigh: I’m just about to begin working for the federal government as a junior policy analyst with Natural Resources Canada.


Laura: What was your job title at POLIS, and what did your role involve?

Caleigh: I interned as a research assistant with POLIS in the summer of 2019, and couldn’t stay away for very long following that summer! I worked intermittently with the team until the summer of 2022. As a research assistant, I lent a hand to whatever projects most needed support—whether helping draft slide decks or documents, or doing preliminary research, or even occasionally editing video reels for virtual conferences.


Laura: What was your biggest contribution to the work at POLIS? And what were the impacts of that work?

Caleigh: One of my highlights during my time at POLIS was representing the team at World Water Day 2022 forum events in Ottawa. I’m not sure if this aligns with my greatest contribution, but it was certainly an incredible opportunity for me. I was studying in Toronto at the time, which made me the POLIS team member closest to Ottawa, so I caught a train to the capital with the mission of relaying insights from “on the ground.” I remember plenty of buzz amongst the politicians and academics present at Chateau Laurier around the importance of federal leadership around fresh water in Canada, as I rubbed shoulders with hugely admired leaders from academia, public, and private sectors. I think that as a young person, and especially as a young person in policy, I was a somewhat unique presence since most of the other young professionals were scientists—maybe my attendance was important for this reason.

Laura: Of course it was important! And in terms of impact and the continuing story of federal freshwater leadership, one year after that World Water Day event, federal Budget 2023 included some significant commitments to water, like the announcement of a Canada Water Agency and substantial financial commitments to freshwater protection, monitoring, and restoration.

Caleigh Aalders with members of the Forum for Leadership on Water (FLOW) involved in “The Climate Crisis is a Water Crisis” World Water Day events in Ottawa, Ontario, March 22, 2022.


Laura: Are there any skills or lessons from your POLIS days that you still carry with you today?  

Caleigh: When I joined POLIS as a student at the University of Victoria, I suffered from something like group project phobia. POLIS completely turned this around for me. I learned so much from being involved in a team effort during all of the stages of the development of a document—from initial brainstorming, to drafting through myriad rounds of editing, to final polishing. This iterative POLIS process remains my favourite way of working and has stuck with me through my master’s degree (including more successful group projects) and continues to serve me well as I begin a career.


Laura: What adventures have you been on since leaving POLIS? Are there any major milestones—either personally or professionally—that you’d like to share? 

Caleigh:  I’m just about to graduate with my Masters in Public Administration and International Affairs from York University, which has expanded my horizons geographically (Toronto and Paris) and intellectually (other policy areas such as human rights and the Canadian extractive sector). I’ve just recently been accepted into the Policy Analyst Recruitment and Development Program at Natural Resources Canada, where I’ll be working on the ongoing transformation of Canada’s energy systems.


Laura: There are some big concepts that are central to our ongoing work at POLIS—like ecological governance and watershed security. What do these concepts mean to you? And, in particular, has your understanding of these ideas changed over time, based on where your career has taken you and what you’ve learned in the last 20 years?

Caleigh:  I wish that I had 20 years of perspective to share on these weighty concepts! I can say after more education and travel that managing our interdependence is a key aspect of ecological governance. Water systems are such an evocative reminder of the interconnectedness of the natural world, which isn’t always well reflected in our institutions or even our societies. Managing our interdependence is a reality we have to face in our relationships with the natural world and in our relationships with other people, and it reminds us of the larger goal of living well together in this world.


Laura: Now that you can look at the work of POLIS from a distance, what are your thoughts? Are we achieving what we should be? Where do you think we’re having the biggest impact? 

Caleigh: Although it hasn’t been very long since I’ve left POLIS, my experience here has hugely shaped my future orientations. It’s hard to summarize the impact of remarkable mentors and colleagues, but I can definitely say that working at POLIS has opened my eyes to how important and interesting policy work can be. Looking back at this work during and after studying in Brussels, Toronto, and Paris, I think that POLIS is doing world-class work in conceptualizing new forms of governance, and it does this on the strength of excellent research and deeply human connections.


Laura: Do you have any favourite POLIS memories you’d like to share?

Caleigh: I distinctly remember that my first Twitter post was for POLIS, and I also remember botching it! Possibly due to a typo. What I primarily remember is that Laura, overseeing my novice communications attempts, responded to my panic with such kind graciousness. Despite Laura being wonderful, I still don’t love Twitter.

Laura: I don’t remember this! I’m glad to hear I was kind and gracious! Haha. We all make typos. You are a skilled writer, and it’s always been a joy to collaborate with you. I wish you all the best on your new job—and hope it doesn’t involve any Twitter 😉