A decade-long odyssey from UBC Geography to geoscience consulting

By Sarah Davidson

It’s 7:30am and my field partner, Jack, and I are packing up for a long walk through the grassy rangelands of southwestern Alberta, in the Rocky Mountain foothills. We’ve driven our truck as far as we can through a bumpy farmer’s field but have reached a steep, impassable gully. We’ll have to continue on foot from here – it’s a hot August day and a fire ban forced us to cancel our ATV rentals at the last minute. We load our bags with our lunches, several bottles of Gatorade, and an extensive list of equipment: a laser rangefinder, transmitter and pipe locator, tape measure, chest waders, life jackets, field books, and an iPad. Over the course of the day we’ll assess 15 gullies, streams, and hillslopes looking for signs of erosion and slope instability.

Figure 1. Assessing the condition of riprap in a river in the rangelands of southern Alberta. Photo credit: Jack Park.

I first realized I wanted to be a geoscientist on a visit to the UBC geography department in the spring of 2009. I was on campus to meet my future Master’s supervisor, Brett Eaton, when I spotted a poster for the environmental geoscience requirements for APEGBC (now EGBC). The poster featured a glossy picture of a helicopter perched on a gravel bar and asked: “Do you want a career as a geoscientist?” I was immediately sold. I’d completed a Bachelor’s degree in environmental science at McGill University, though, and had had no idea at the time that geoscience existed. The history, political science, and economics courses that I’d completed for my minor in international development, while very interesting, were not featured on the APEG geoscience syllabus. During our first meeting that day I sheepishly admitted to Brett that I’d perhaps chosen the wrong undergraduate program and that I wanted to complete the geoscience requirements rather than a Master’s degree. Thankfully he assured me that I could do both (perhaps not realizing that I needed to complete 15(!) additional undergraduate courses).

Continue reading

From Vancouver to Newcastle

By Craig Jones

I’m a Lecturer in Political Geography here in Newcastle and I’ve been here with my wife, Caitrin, for just over a year and a half. Life here is good. I’ve got beautiful views to the east and on a clear day I can see the North Sea. Today is cloudy, but my spirits are high because writing this feels like I’m reconnecting with you all at UBC, and that always brings a smile. I have few complaints and lots to be grateful for, not least my health. The transition back into UK life and work was surprisingly straightforward and despite having spent nearly nine years in Vancouver, in many ways it feels like I never left. Caitrin insists that my accent is become more British by the week, to which I incredulously reply, “I am British”. We like it here. Newcastle is an understated post-industrial city that seems to make the most of its fairly recent – and still felt – decline. It is understated, eminently walkable, comparatively cheap and is full of friendly Geordies who more than live up to their stereotype. It’s also surrounded by some of the most stunning countryside and coastline in Britain, much of which feels ‘untouched’ compared to many places in the South of the country. I sometimes even feel a vague and confused sense of northern pride. To the locals, I may as well be from Cornwall, and Caitrin, of course, is automatically a Trumplander.

There is no such thing as a day in the life of a Lecturer here at Newcastle – much like anywhere else, I suspect. Weeks and months have a certain rhythm, but during term-time the days feel like organised chaos. We are contracted to teach and do admin for around 60 per cent of the time – and the remainder 40+ per cent is spent on research. Student numbers are high, as are tuition fees, so there is a parallel responsibility not only to ensure ‘Teaching Excellence’, but also to create student satisfaction. The latter has a seemingly insatiable appetite, and one’s work is never done. One big difference between the UK and Canadian systems – so far as I can tell – is that here in the UK we do a lot of team-teaching. This can mean several people teaching on an individual course (or ‘module’ here). It also means that it is common to teach across and ‘drop in’ to several courses for the odd lecture. This has both benefits and drawbacks but one thing I have particularly enjoyed is the co-creation of lectures and knowledge and learning from many different pedagogic styles.

Continue reading

The Prodigal Geographer Returns Home: My Ongoing Hunt for the Elusive ‘Ideal’ Job

By Amy Thai

When we’re young and someone asks us, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” it’s an easy answer. “A teacher!” “A doctor!” “An astronaut!”  And maybe these days we’ll also hear, “A YouTuber!”  When I graduated from university, I thought I wanted to go into “community-based environmental outreach”.  I wanted to teach everyone how to be green and save the world.  But I’ve now realized that what I want to be when I grow up is a moving target (as well as the definition of when we’ve “grown up”).  Each job I’ve had has been a lesson in what I like and dislike when it comes to a career, and I’m still looking for that sweet spot.

Modelling my “instrumented bicycle” that I rode to collect data for my Master’s thesis

I completed my B.Sc. in Environmental Science (2005) with a minor in Physical Geography at UBC.  My undergraduate education exposed me to a variety of sciences, including chemistry, biology, and physics, but it was the Department of Geography that stole my heart, hence the minor because I took enough geography classes for UBC to officially recognize my affinity for the department.  I loved the small classes, passionate professors, and homely permanent temporary building that never seemed to change despite all the futuristic glass and reclaimed wood structures popping up everywhere else on campus.  It reflected the department that it housed: a humble and unassuming powerhouse.  Geographers were kind, intelligent, and a little rough and quirky.  Those classes in GIS and meteorology made me feel like I had just scratched the surface of something so much bigger, so I applied to do my M.Sc. in geography.  I wanted to be part of that gritty yet brainy plaid- and fleece-wearing community.  I didn’t apply anywhere else because there was nowhere else I wanted to study.  I already felt at home here.  Despite those cautions of putting all of your eggs in one basket, I got in.  For two years, I worked under Ian McKendry and my thesis focused on air pollution along bicycle routes.  It was only after I was accepted to the program that I learned he was an avid cyclist too: I saw it as another sign I was in the right place.  I had a pretty awesome time collecting data by cycling around the city, my handlebars laden with scientific equipment that was worth orders of magnitude more than my bike.  To me, undergrad was a taste of university, but in grad school, I could really gorge on the university experience.  I loved learning how to formulate my own hypothesis and designing a study to test it out.  Chasing knowledge was a lot more rewarding than sitting in a lecture hall and having it handed to me.  I graduated in 2007, and was off into the real world.

Continue reading

Career Moves of a Third Culture Kid in 2018: Somewhere between geography, design, and new media

By Joey Lee


UBC Geography Joey Lee
NYC Subway // March 2018 // https://chrispie.com/

My name is Joey Lee and I’m a Third Culture Kid (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_culture_kid). Throughout my life I’ve developed personally between cultures — as a Korean-American/foreigner — and unsurprisingly and professionally between disciplines — as a designer and researcher. Despite the never ending existential questions, I’ve found that I’m happiest in the mash-up between these spaces I’ve been occupying. It’s perhaps why I found a home somewhere in between geography and design/new media.

Geography has more to do with articulating the right questions
about the world, rather than having the answers to those questions

By training, some might consider me to be a capital “G” Geographer — I studied geography at UCLA (B.A.) and UBC (M.Sc), worked on developing new ways of mapping Greenhouse Gas Emissions in cities (with Dr. Andreas Christen), and gained a deep appreciation for critical perspectives (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_geography) and a strong foundation in spatial thinking. Through my experiences in Geography, I learned to consider everything, to ask more and better questions, and to be thoughtful about the ways my work (and the work of others) affects people and places. For me, Geography has more to do with articulating the right questions about the world, rather than having the answers to those questions. While as a geographer I might not have the answer to all of the world’s pressing questions, at least I will have (hopefully) unpacked more thoughtfully than most, where, how, and why those questions are being expressed. After all, you can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what the problem is in the first place. All that being said, the lens of geography is critical for what I do, but it’s fitting to say that I’m not “doing geography”.

From what I’m seeing, expressing new and critical perspectives
from the arts, humanities, and social sciences about/using
technology is what the world could use more of.

Continue reading

My journey from a very keen but distracted (and probably depressed) undergraduate to a Professor of Geography at Simon Fraser University

By Nadine Schuurman

Remember the Friendly Giant? Never heard of him? Well he was voted Canada’s most loved TV show last year in a CBC poll (you can find it on Youtube). He always started the show with “look up, way up” because he was a giant and very tall. To write this blog, I had to look back, way back.

I did my undergraduate degree at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN), about as remote as you can get from Ottawa where I went to High School. I probably took just about every type of course in my first couple of years before settling on Geology as a major. Sadly, that did not go well. It didn’t go well because my little brother became very ill and died. Before he died, during the period that he was sick and in and out of hospital, I tried running long distances, then reading books by myself in my freezing cold bed-sit, then partying. It all worked to distract me – so much that I failed all of my courses in the Spring semester of 1979.

Me around the time of my expulsion (1979)

Failing all of your courses resulted back then (and possibly today) in what was called the Dean’s vacation: a two year forced expulsion. They weren’t very happy years but by the time I returned to MUN as a 21 year, I knew I wanted to become a geographer, especially a GIS type of geographer.

I was self-supporting after my spectacular failure at my first university attempt and that really sharpened my focus. I ended up doing quite well. I won a few minor scholarships, was given a Teaching Assistantship as an undergraduate and started to think “hey maybe I can go all the way with this academic gig”. Beginner’s confidence. Continue reading

Andrew Storey MA ’04

Andrew Storey is now Director of Teaching at the Anglo-American Centre in Cagliari, Sardinia, one of the largest and most highly regarded private English language schools in Italy (www.angloamericancentre.it)  He was promoted internally after serving there for seven years as a teacher.  Andrew thanks the Department of Geography for its rigorous and critical approach to scholarship, which continues to inform his work in training and managing a team of 25 language teachers, as well as the cameraderie, humour and support of fellow grad students in good times and bad.

Adam Brosgall BA ’89

Adam Brosgall started his own law firm, Brosgall Legal, in 2010, and works as a sole practitioner. Somewhat related to his geography background, his firm has become Vancouver’s leading ‘Apostille’ services company, focused on the authentication and legalization of legal documentation for overseas use.  Over the past 10 years, Adam has worked closely with BC’s Department of Justice, and Canada’s DFAIT, as well as the many foreign consulates and embassies across Canada.  He finds this work interesting as every client has different requirements, and every country has different procedures.  Adam has successfully legalized thousands of documents for use in close to 100 different countries.