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Dr. Carissa Brown

Geographer exploring climate change and treeline expansion in Arctic and alpine systems

By Janet Harron

Growing up the daughter of a forestry professor in Thunder Bay, Ont., Dr. Carissa Brown learned how to pace out distance in the forest and spent significant time canoeing and camping.

She also didn’t associate gender with going out in the bush.

“In my memory as a kid, I had lots of prominent females teaching and taking forestry classes, and I had a long list of mentors,” said the associate professor, Department of Geography, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, who works in the area of plant and forest ecology and biogeography.

Originally planning on a career as a physiotherapist, Dr. Brown quickly realized that she was more interested in the relationships between species and the reasons why they exist where they do.

Dr. Carissa Brown wants young women to know that it’s important to work with people who celebrate your success.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

While completing her undergraduate degree in biology she worked for the Ministry of Natural Resources with a near all-female crew conducting forest management research.

“I was fortunate to be in communities during important phases of my education and work that were very female dominated.”

Advice for her younger self

It was during her first stint doing Arctic research that Dr. Brown’s physicality was a topic of discussion.

“It wasn’t from colleagues, but from being out in the field and having people comment on my size since I was, in their words, such ‘a little girl,’” explained Dr. Brown, noting that those kinds of comments were outweighed by interactions with people more interested in her research than her gender.

She is currently working with an “absolutely fantastic” team of graduate students on research related to the response of plant species to climate change, and is spearheading the Global Treeline Range Expansion Experiment. This initiative is examining treelines, or the transitions from forests to non-forested ecosystems, in an attempt to explore treeline expansion in Arctic and alpine systems.

Her advice to her younger self? Work with nice people.

“It’s so important to work with people who support you and elevate you and celebrate when you have a success,” said Dr. Brown, who extols Memorial’s geography department as the most supportive academic environment she has ever been in.

“For me, another important part of scientific research is that I continue to enjoy what I am doing and that I continue to create a positive and supportive community  by working with great collaborators.”

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