Category Archives: UBC Geography – MSc

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).

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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.

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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 //

My name is Joey Lee and I’m a 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 ( 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.

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