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‘Badge of honour’

Geography researcher receives national honours for early career success

By Jeff Green

The Canadian Association of Geographers has honoured an associate professor in the Department of Geography for her research accomplishments.

Dr. Carissa Brown of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences is this year’s recipient of the Julian M. Szeicz Award for Early Career Achievement. She accepted the award during the association’s recent annual meeting in Winnipeg, Man.

The award’s purpose is to foster the development of geographical studies of Canada and to provide recognition of recently established geographical practitioners. It is named after a Canadian researcher who was killed at the age of 33 in an avalanche in 1998 while carrying out alpine fieldwork – coincidentally the same type of research led by Dr. Brown.

Research parallels

It’s a particularly meaningful development in Dr. Brown’s life, considering Julian Szeicz’s papers on sub-Arctic and alpine treelines were some of the first she read during her PhD and were important contributions to treeline research.

Both researchers have research connections to the Yukon and Newfoundland and Labrador, to treeline work and to historical ecology. The parallels between their respective research and careers resonates with her.

Dr. Brown also says the award is meaningful because it confirms her research as a geographer.

“All of my degrees are in biology and it was partway through my ecology-focused PhD that I realized that a lot of what I did was relevant to biogeography,” she told the Gazette.

“That my research has been recognized by our national geography society is a bit of a badge of honour and says that my contributions are important to geographers.”

Biogeography focus

Here at Memorial, Dr. Brown currently leads the Northern EDGE Lab, where she collaborates with graduate students and other researchers to conduct research in Arctic, boreal and temperate ecosystems on topics related to biogeography, climate change and disturbance. She also directs the Global Treeline Range Expansion Experiment.

“I work with an amazing group of early career researchers, whose contributions to my overall research program are immeasurable,” she said. “Really, academic research would not exist without the contributions of graduate students.”

Newfoundland and Labrador is among the best locations in the world for their field of study, she says. Students have the opportunity to study everything from sub-Arctic treelines and alpine barrens to fire, wind and insect disturbance to the effects of climate change on forests.

Balanced approach

In addition to the award’s significance, Dr. Brown says she feels the honour recognizes the model she uses to balance her research, teaching, service and life.

“If you are struggling with a part of your life outside of work, doing research that you love and working with a team of supportive people will balance you.” — Dr. Carissa Brown

“I think it is easy for us – faculty, researchers, graduate students – to over-commit ourselves and to take work home with us. We can be really good at feeling guilty about not working as hard as we think folks around us are working.”

She says she has tried to create a culture in the Northern EDGE Lab of working efficiently while at work, but then doing other, fulfilling things while not at work.

“Having a community and life away from your research means that when you have frustrations or disappointment at work, you have other parts of your life to balance you,” she said.

“And vice versa: if you are struggling with a part of your life outside of work, doing research that you love and working with a team of supportive people will balance you. It creates redundancy in your happiness. Receiving this award means that model is working for me, and I hope it helps others see that you can be successful without letting work fill every part of your life.”

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