Dr. Connie Nelson
What is at the heart of a strong, healthy community?
Dr. Connie Nelson's answer would be food: high-quality, fresh and locally grown. Since arriving at Lakehead, Dr. Nelson has been a catalyst for local food initiatives which have thrived through her partnership with the Food Security Research Committee. She is heavily involved with the design and implementation of community service learning courses, which encourage student involvement in the local food movement and span multiple areas of study.
Dr. Nelson explains that her current endeavours blend her passion for research with her own personal experience of growing up on a farm. The intended product is "to build a stronger, resilient local food system that will benefit all of us in terms of our health and well-being". At first sight, the current food system may seem industrial-oriented, with corporate giants taking over "mom and pop farms". But Dr. Nelson explains that the last decade has seen a tipping point and local food and small-scale agriculture are taking back the scene.
There are multiple opportunities for students within the forestry, social work, environmental science, and public health departments. Interest is not lacking and Dr. Nelson frequently offers advice to aspiring graduates. Projects vary significantly and current study topics range from the health benefits of a community garden to the market potential of wild blueberry ecotypes to measures ensuring the adequate nutrition of babies born to high-risk mothers.
Dr. Nelson emphasizes that the need for food security research will only grow with time, a product of factors such as climate change and increased pressure on Canada to export. In addition she hopes that further opportunities will arise as the silo between food and health continues to break down.
Dr. Harvey Lemelin
A professor at the School of Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism at Lakehead University, it is fitting that Dr. Harvey Lemelin successfully integrates wildlife into the management discussions. But his research has a twist.
A sociologist by training, Dr. Lemelin studies the human dimensions of wildlife interactions; his topics of research include bears and cougars and the conflicts between these animals and human beings.
For the past six years, Dr. Lemelin has developed a collaborative research project with the Fort Severn Cree Nation on polar bear management. This project has produced various achievements, including having the voice of the Cree in Northern Ontario heard in polar bear management in Canada.
However, one of Dr. Lemelin's chief subjects at present is quite a bit smaller than the polar bear. And generally a lot less liked.
Or so it would seem. Dr. Lemelin is currently incorporating insects into animal-human studies, with a focus on human perceptions. Poorly structured research and assumptions in the past have resulted in a false impression that insects are largely hated and feared. Through several articles and an upcoming book, Dr. Lemelin is challenging these notions and demonstrating that insects such as butterflies and ladybugs are indeed quite popular and well-liked.
This is one of the many opportunities for Dr. Lemelin's graduate students, several of which have travelled all over Northern Canada and attended conferences throughout North America.
Dr. Lemelin strongly advises any student entering wildlife management to also study "people management", how to communicate with and understand human beings. "You have to learn to talk to people and interact and this is where a social perspective is strongly beneficial... human beings are at the core of the issues in this field."
Dr. Connie Russell
For Dr. Connie Russell, a day in the field could be anything from a whale watching expedition to an African safari to an orangutan tour. Chair of Graduate Studies and Research in Education, Dr. Russell's interests lie in environmental education that occurs not only in schools but also through travel. For her, the field is a traveler's paradise with its high number and variety of fieldwork opportunities.
"One of the things I tell grad students is that their studies should not only be intellectually stimulating but also enjoyable," Dr. Russell explains. "They should be passionate about what they do."
Consequently she offers her students the flexibility and support to pursue projects of their choice. "My experience as a supervisor has been fabulous," says Dr. Russell. "I've had great students and I learn tons of stuff from them because they're pursuing such a wide range of topics."
Student research projects have ranged from developing educational initiatives to improve human-elephant relations in Kenya to assessing human-sled dog relationships to examining the use of service dogs for kids who have autism. Others are investigating students' reactions to dissection in high school labs, wolf-focused education, and the educational uses of wilderness trips by organizations like Outward Bound.
And the work settings her graduates find themselves in after graduation are just as varied, from schools to parks to community or environmental organizations. "This is because education happens in a whole variety of sites and information about the environment can be gathered and shared in all sorts of places," explains Dr. Russell.
When asked about what she loves most about her career, Dr. Russell reflects on her feelings after recently watching Walt Disney's Oceans production: "It just reminded me that I'm so lucky to have actually been able to go whale watching, to go on African safaris; these are things I wanted to do when I was a little kid. And students can do that too!"
Dr. Mary Louise Hill
Dr. Mary Louise Hill from the Lakehead Geology Department has great difficulty deciding on her most exciting experience.
"Was it traversing in the Canadian Arctic and discovering sheath folds while hare and caribou looked on? Or finding fossils in the migmatite of the Coast Mountains in British Columbia? Or exploring deep underground in the Musselwhite Mine north of Thunder Bay?" She adds, "For me, every day in the field is full of discovery so there is never a dull moment!"
Dr. Hill uses an intimate knowledge of rock surface patterns to determine what lies below. Her techniques are highly valuable to prospectors, miners, and the economic development of Northern Ontario, particularly because of her focus of interest: gold.
In addition, her work is attracting international attention. Just last summer, she was invited to a research conference in Spain and a consulting job in Portugal.
While enjoying an exciting and stimulating career, Dr. Hill is highly devoted to her students. She has supervised 16 and reports that those finished are "over the world now doing interesting things". One past pupil holds a senior position at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, two are professors of geology, and one is a research scientist in Korea.
She emphasizes that students who pursue graduate studies in geology open doors to a world of opportunities. Lakehead students are particularly sought after by employers who appreciate their solid education and experience in the field.
Dr. Kristin Burnett
As a social historian, Dr. Kristin Burnett's research interests lie in examining colonialism in Canada and the complex web of social, political, and cultural factors that continue to influence and shape national attitudes and beliefs towards Indigenous people, especially women. She points to the vivid example of how Aboriginal women continue to be characterized as "nonhuman, as throw away, as marginal" by the dominant society.
"There's a historical context for this, it's not just something that's happening today," she emphasizes. One way she attempts to shed some light on these issues is by helping to organize the Full Moon Memory Walk, a local grassroots initiative to raise awareness for missing and murdered Anishinaabe and Mtis women in Northwestern Ontario.
In addition, Dr. Burnett studies epidemics and public responses to them. A recent example is the 2003 SARS epidemic in Toronto, where, despite expert medical advice, people blamed the Chinese community for the disease.
"There are these underlying social anxieties like racism, which bubble up and are acted out during these outbreak moments," she explains.
Dr. Burnett encourages her students to challenge the dominant system of values and beliefs through historical inquiry. One of her students is pursuing a project which argues that the social construction of Aboriginal motherhood is the cause of such adverse impacts as the disproportionate focus on sterilization and birth control and the removal of children from their communities. Dr. Burnett also pushes her students to study topics which move and speak to them.
Dr. Kirsten Oinonen
"I don't feel there's an opportunity to be bored in my position," muses Dr. Kirsten Oinonen. "There are just too many exciting opportunities in research, teaching, training, learning, and practice."
As the director of Lakehead's clinical psychology program, Dr. Oinonen is understandably quite busy outside of the classroom. Besides collaborating with colleagues, reviewing papers for journals, and attending meetings and conferences around the world, she continues to demystify the effects of hormones on human behaviour through her research. She also endeavours to further understand mating preferences and strategies and how they're influenced by hormones and the menstrual cycle.
Additionally, Dr. Oinonen continues to offer neuropsychological assessment services to the public as a clinical psychologist.
However, despite her hectic schedule, Dr. Oinonen has successfully supervised many a student and makes a strong effort to keep up with her graduates after they move on. Her past students can be found all over the map, many of which continued onto pursue PhD studies. While one is in Nova Scotia studying early predictors of Alzheimer's disease, another is in New Brunswick assessing the impacts of hormones on vision, and a third is currently working as a psychometrist after researching the role of menstrual cyclicity in female attractiveness.
Dr. Oinonen stresses that graduate students at Lakehead can pick and choose from a wide variety of topics from which to complete a thesis: eating disorders and body image, anxiety disorders, aboriginal and cultural issues, problem gambling, and elder abuse are just a few of the possibilities.
She adds that Thunder Bay beholds many opportunities for those who love the outdoors. "While graduate students are extremely busy, study breaks can be spent by fitting in a ski, run, hike, bike, kayak, and other outdoor adventures in Thunder Bay and the surrounding area".
Dr. Scott Hamilton
As an archaeologist within Lakehead's Department of Anthropology, Dr. Scott Hamilton is well acquainted with the bush. Having to frequent remote areas to excavate for earlier signs for life, he often finds himself in places relatively unaffected by modern development - which makes it easier to envision the living conditions of the former, ancient inhabitants.
Dr. Hamilton is well versed in multiple subfields including fur trade archaeology, archaeology of the northern plains and subarctic, environmental archaeology, and zooarchaeology. As such he is able to pass down a wide range of knowledge and skills sets to his master's students. He is also on board several projects spearheaded by other faculty members, one of which involves tracking where maize was consumed by early peoples in the boreal forest. Additionally, he is highly involved in collaborative research with Northern Ontario First Nations groups.
Dr. Hamilton cites the small size, interdisciplinary flavor, and remote location of Lakehead as significant advantages of the program. In addition, Dr. Hamilton explains that many students routinely find training and employment opportunities throughout their education, as technicians at local dig sites or even as supervisors at international field schools. He adds, "This provides practical experience and marketable skills, as well as an opportunity to see how much they like the dirt, bugs and sweat of field archaeology coupled with the cool stuff and places we get to visit". He stresses that to become professional archaeologists, students need to be prepared to go to graduate school and get advanced training.
Kinesiology student Ashley Hope is combining her love of animals and her passion for fitness to combat the national health crisis.
"My research is looking at how dogs are motivating for physical activity. The project really appeals to me because dog walking is a form of physical activity that's integral to one's lifestyle as opposed to joining a gym for a couple of months or occasionally running on a treadmill."
Presently, approximately 15% of Canadian adults achieve the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each week and rates of obesity have nearly doubled over the past eight years. Hope has discovered that older adults who own dogs tend to walk more than their canine-lacking comrades and that this activity is beneficial for psychological, social, and physiological well-being.
Since coming to Lakehead, Hope has been wowed by the dedication of her faculty, especially that of her supervisor who has even accompanied her in late-night research efforts to ensure their success.
"The support from the faculty has been amazing and they're constantly looking out for you while pushing you the extra mile."
Hope has also been presented with several travel opportunities, having travelled to Paris last summer to attend the International Symposium on Adapted Physical Activity and flying to England this July for the annual International Society of Anthrozoology conference.
Currently in the process of applying to the University of Western Ontario PhD program for health and rehabilitation sciences, Hope is optimistic that her experiences at Lakehead will benefit her future efforts to promote health and fitness.
Mary Jane Moses
Biology student Mary Jane Moses is studying one of the most complex processes through one of the simplest organisms.
Working with unicellular green algae, she's able to test theories of habitat selection and add to her understanding of evolutionary ecology, a field which long ago captured her interests in biodiversity, the great outdoors and scientific inquiry.
Why are evolutionary studies important?
"Plants, animals, humans - we're all dependent on the same resources," explains Moses, "so we have to have an appreciation and an understanding of the natural systems as well the impacts we have on them."
Her "average" day begins at 7 in the morning, when she tends to her algal cultures in the laboratory. Outside the lab, Moses balances her GA/teaching assistance, group meetings, and various duties as part of the evolutionary-ecological research team. She also gets to spend some time outside doing fieldwork, for which she always comes prepared.
"Always plan for the unexpected," advises Moses. "You never know what's going to happen."
She adds that major benefits of the biology program are the hands-on opportunities. Moses has had many chances to assist professors beyond the scope of her project, which greatly increases her skill set for future opportunities. Additionally, she has worked with members of the Faculty of Natural Resources Management, assists with research in Nunavut, and will soon be off to Ottawa to attend the Canadian Society of Ecology and Evolution's first ever Joint Congress on Evolutionary Biology . "It's the largest in 100 years with researchers attending from all over North America and Europe."
Though undecided at this point whether she'll continue on her academic stream to PhD studies or pursue a working career upon graduation, Moses is confident that her experience at Lakehead and well-earned skill set has left her with many prospects.
For her thesis project, Mary Chang chose to study, and feed, the "Purple Pitcher Plant", a carnivorous plant that consumes insects to thrive in a nutrient-poor soil environment. While Chang was successful in detecting the enzymes necessary for the plant's digestion, likely derived from the self-digestion of the frozen crickets it consumed, she was more thrilled by her students' fascination with the project.
Chang's true passion is a blend of teaching and lab work, herself motivated by student interest in the sciences. With an education degree coupled with graduate training, she hopes to find a niche teaching students in a lab-based learning environment.
Chang has had several opportunities to provide laboratory instruction throughout her own education, having worked as a TA for several years. She confirms that guiding undergraduates as they explored the basics of biology furthered her interest in an education-related career. Outside the lab, Chang was also able to attend several field trips and frequented the research bogs and on-campus greenhouses. She also enjoyed the annual biology retreat at Kingfisher Lake, which solidified Chang and her peers as friends and colleagues.
Chang hopes to use her graduate experience to inspire future students with intriguing projects on fascinating study subjects.
What does her future hold? Chang recently returned from the UK, after being flown up by a recruitment agency for a series of teaching interviews. She is also currently preparing for an interview next week at local lab, Mitomics Inc.