Blog Contributor: Allison Clark
I accepted my admissions offer to the Master of Sustainability program in February 2020, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. I was expecting all courses to be taught in person and was looking forward to building connections with faculty members and students at Brock. After several months of lockdowns, it became apparent that the 2020-2021 academic year would take place virtually. While I understood the importance of working from home during the pandemic, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to undertake graduate studies in person. Nevertheless, I knew the Master of Sustainability program was the right fit for me, so I began my studies in September 2020.
From the comfort of my home in Nova Scotia, I spent the past two terms completing courses pertaining to sustainability, science and society. Required courses focused on the foundations of sustainability science, research methods for environmental inquiry, and transdisciplinary research in practice. Through these courses, I was able to better understand the complex social-ecological issues we are faced with as sustainability scientists. As an elective, I enrolled in a directed readings course with my supervisor, Dr. Michael Pisaric. This course allowed me to engage with literature pertaining to my thesis topic, investigating the impacts of climate change on vegetation in the Canadian Arctic. I also audited a climate change adaptation course taught by Dr. Jessica Blythe, where I was able to learn about climate adaptation at the academic, municipal, and corporate levels. Despite these courses being entirely virtual, each of my professors cultivated incredible, open, and engaging learning experiences. Having small class sizes allowed me to build connections with my classmates and professors – both of whom have encouraged and supported me every step of the way.
As a graduate research assistant, I worked on the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative, a partnership between Brock University and the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC). My co-worker, fellow student, and now friend, Savannah Stuart, was also assigned to this position. Together, Savannah and I focused most of our time developing a Climate Change Readiness Plan for the NPC. We received constant support from our supervisor, Dr. Ryan Plummer, who guided us through the planning process. Through this position, I was able to develop my leadership, communication, teamwork, and qualitative research skills.
Through my thesis research, I have been able to foster my passion for Arctic ecology and climate change. With the help of Dr. Michael Pisaric, I formulated a successful thesis proposal, which will guide me through my research in the terms to come. My proposed research requires me to complete in-person laboratory analyses, which will be done in the Water and Environment Laboratory at Brock. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, I was not able to work on this aspect of my research during the Fall or Winter terms. Luckily, I was recently approved to work in the laboratory. With this approval, I made the big move from Nova Scotia to Ontario so that I could continue with my research.
Overall, faculty and staff within the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre have created an incredibly supportive and engaging learning environment, which is no small feat during a pandemic. I have already learned more than I could have ever imagined going into this program. I am eager to continue in the program through my thesis research. In doing so, I have no doubts that I will have support from those within the Sustainability program at Brock.