A formidable challenge faces water research and policy communities (WRPC) over the next few decades: how to best use its human resources as environmental, management, demographic, gender and workplace expectations rapidly evolve. Questions about how to retain talented WRPC professionals over time and career stages have been neglected. And there has been little scholarly investigation of the underlying questions—of motivation, objectives, knowledge acquisition and challenges—influencing WRPC professionals’ roles and contributions.

The Canadian WRPC is a diverse community of engineers, technicians, biologists, planners, economists, scholars conducting physical or social research, politicians, public servants and civil society activists. Our research examines the contributions of these men and women, across the stages of their lives and careers, to their professional community. To understand the career paths of university-educated professionals within the WPC, we use a research framework based on social capital concepts, and we draw on the fields of sociology, organizational and human resources management, economics and geography.

Our objective is to test the utility of social-capital concepts for understanding male and female WRPC career progressions. We propose that it is the generation of, and sustained access to, social capital that supports professional development and WRPC knowledge management. This paper reports the results from qualitative analysis of female participants’ personal essays. Subsequent findings, from the comparison with male participants’ responses are forthcoming in 2011.

This research first considers the contextual transitions in the WRPC and then briefly describes our research framework and methodology. Finally, we present our detailed, qualitative findings and extract preliminary conclusions for future research and interventions.