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Bears and Beach

It’s one thing to decide to do a PhD, it’s another to actually get one off the ground.

After my hike in to Skoki, I pitched my project idea to my future supervisor and asked if he’d be interested. I think choosing the right supervisor is just as important as choosing the right research question. I know a PhD will be hard and there will be moments that I question why I’m even doing this. In those moments, passion about the subject will see me through. I know there will be other moments of challenge associated with feedback from my supervisor. In those moments, having respect for my supervisor’s research in “life before Sarah” is critical.

My supervisor is Dr. Owen Nevin, whose work I was familiar with through my Master’s research. Owen has done some great work looking at grizzly bears and tourism on the coast of British Columbia. I like his approach to the research and his efforts to define a balance between grizzly bear habitat needs and a positive tourist experience.

My Master's research on the coast of BC looked at the potential impacts of boat-based bear viewing tourism on grizzly bear behaviour.

My Master’s research on the coast of BC looked at the potential impacts of boat-based bear viewing tourism on grizzly bear behaviour.

Just because Owen agreed to supervise my PhD, didn’t mean that I just jumped in and began. For two years, we fleshed out research objectives and searched for funding. As a mature student with a mortgage, I didn’t want to end up in the poor house just to become a Doctor.

It wasn’t until the summer of 2012 that things started to fall into place. Owen became the Dean of Graduate Research at Central Queensland University in Australia and secured funding for my research through CQU. And so I will study grizzly bears in the Canadian Rockies as an Australian University student.

Crazy. I know! It still sounds completely insane to me to write it or say it.

Before you ask – no there are not grizzly bears in Australia. CQU is interested in expanding their conservation biology research efforts. Having a student and faculty member researching large carnivores and interactions with people is part of that effort.

So I’m moving to Australia, but only for a few months every year. Basically, I will be based out of my home in Canmore, Alberta during grizzly bear active time (April to October) and in Australia for grizzly bear hibernation time (November to March). Hiking all summer in the glorious Rockies, a landscape that is so much a part of me I can’t imagine a life without it. Data analysis on the beach, an idea so ridiculous I can’t wait to try it. And endless summer for three years. And that right there is why grizzly bears are the perfect study species – they sleep all winter!

I leave for Australia to kick things off on March 5. Even though it’s taken Owen and I over two years to get this research off the ground, it’s all coming so fast all of a sudden.

Let the PhD games begin!

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