Integrative Biology PhD
Why did you choose to complete your graduate studies in your program at the University of Guelph?
Guelph has an international reputation for housing cutting-edge, well-funded, quality research programs. I chose to apply to study at the University of Guelph with my supervisor, Dr Sarah Adamowicz, because I knew she is an exceptional scientist and well-regarded by every grad student supervised by her. The collaborative nature of my project, which works closely with the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics (also located on campus) and a federal government agency, has been incredible in terms of opportunities.
A bit about your path...
My undergraduate studies resulted in a BSc with Honours in Physical Geography from the University of Winnipeg. I worked as a Research Technician in Churchill, Manitoba at the research station there (Churchill Northern Studies Centre). Four months of the year, I worked in remote research logistical support, collecting contract data from more than 15 long-term projects from pond ecology to plant phenology, among other duties. I ended up doing my undergraduate thesis project as part of my work at this station. The University of Guelph has a yearly undergraduate ecology field course at this station, which is where I originally met Dr Adamowicz as she leads this course. The mentors I had in academia and in the Arctic science community were all female; they showed me that I had potential and that it was possible to succeed in that realm of research. Graduate studies were never my intention, but receiving support from my mentors I decided to give grad school a chance. It was difficult to find a supervisor who either specializes in or is interested in Arctic freshwater ecology, but I stuck it out and ended up with an incredible supervisor at an excellent university. My supervisor offered me the choice to transition to PhD without finishing my Masters recently; if it were anyone but her, I would have declined. It is truly because of her and the support network I have around me from both my undergrad and MSc experiences that have helped me achieve things I didn't think were possible.
A bit about the work you are doing here...
What excited me about my research was initially that it was relatively outside what I studied in my undergraduate program. I was thrilled to begin studying a new field of science alongside internationally renowned scientists at the University of Guelph. My research project is generating knowledge that currently does not exist and establishing baselines for future studies to be based on. The biggest moment that stands out in my memory was when I found out I was working in the lab of the scientist who actually invented DNA barcoding right here at Guelph. Because I did not study genetics, DNA or biology in my undergraduate degree, I had no idea how special it was to be working there!
What led me to this project was the opportunity to do field work in the High Arctic. Field work is a component of research that I am especially fond of, so I was looking for a chance to get out onto the land myself as I had in my undergraduate degree. I ended up receiving funding from Polar Knowledge Canada, the federal agency that operates the Canadian High Arctic Research Station. By working collaboratively, I have had many incredible opportunities that I would have not had otherwise, such as joining a team of ecologists for a 5-night helicopter trip to an especially remote area of the Middle Arctic.
How do you think your research (or the work you are doing at U of G) can potentially improve life?
My research is creating a baseline understanding of freshwater invertebrate biodiversity in the Canadian Middle Arctic. This knowledge will round out what is already known about climate change-related alterations in hydrologic systems in the North, and will help us identify invasive species as they colonize northwards. Having an understanding of current baseline conditions can also be used to inform policy.
Please comment on your academic relationship with your advisor...
My supervisor is an incredible scientist and an even more incredible human being. She is generous with knowledge, time, and compassion. She prioritizes mental and physical health of her students and takes efforts to ensure all lab members are healthy and happy. She is intensely organized and goal-oriented and teaches her students these skills. She also encourages her lab members to pursue opportunities outside of our research projects, and she supported me when I wanted to learn more about project management and scientific communication. I have suffered from three traumatic brain injuries since beginning graduate studies and I could not have gotten through the uncertain and tumultuous recovery periods without her support. I could not have asked for a better mentor.
Tell us something about you, beyond being a grad student...
I deeply enjoy photography, specifically landscape and wildlife photography. I do a lot of camping and birding in my free time. I enjoy travel and experiencing local life in other countries, so I did volunteer work for months at a time abroad training horses.
Briefly describe what it is like to be a graduate student at U of G...
I find the graduate community at the University of Guelph to be highly engaging and active. I love that there are so many activities on and off campus, whether they are academic or social.
A bit about U of G campus and the city of Guelph...
The campus is significantly bigger than what I was accustomed to and I appreciated the resources and amenities located there. I liked that there was a wide range of healthcare available and the UC houses many tasty food and drink joints. My office is in the Summerlee Science Complex which is a beautiful new building, and I especially appreciated having a Second Cup on the ground floor.
Guelph is a lovely town with a lively and exciting city centre. I loved that I could walk or bicycle from the university to downtown and regularly frequented the locally-owned shops. As an advocate for zero-waste living, residing in Guelph was amazing as there is a city compost service and many markets and local makers to purchase food and goods from.