PhD student, Geography and Environmental Management

Why did you choose to pursue graduate studies at the University of Waterloo?

I chose to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of Waterloo because of its focus on and interdisciplinary expertise in environmental research, specifically climate change and food systems. I found that the Faculty of Environment has a breadth of courses that prepares you for in-depth training in understanding global environmental change. In addition to this, prior to choosing to attend UWaterloo, I really enjoyed the atmosphere on campus and in the city; there is a great mix of the rural and urban in this region.

Ileana DiazDescribe your research and what makes you passionate about it:

My dissertation project, Navigating Food Futures: Post-Disaster Food Sovereignty in Puerto Rico, is ongoing work generated in 2017 which seeks to understand constraints in the lives of individuals, communities, and their food system. This project builds on earlier work I conducted in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean which started in 2015. I have been passionate about this work because it is so closely linked to my own lived experience. My other research activities have led me to various forests, ecosystems, and communities where I have enjoyed learning.

Tell us about where you are from:

I was born in the Caribbean and am a person of Afro-Caribbean and European descent. I grew up in various places in the US. I have had the privilege to travel a lot in my life due to my pursuits in higher learning and this has informed the person that I am today. Currently, I live on the traditional territory of ‎the Neutral, Anishinaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples and I make an effort to learn what I can about the history of the region and its treaties.

What is the best part about being a grad student?

For me, it has been the experience of teaching and mentoring, which has given me a lot of joy. I have been fortunate to meet some wonderful students and colleagues during my time here. By being in the university you can make great connections with people outside of professors, too! For example, I have been fortunate to work alongside a supportive group at UWaterloo’s Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs (GSPA) and to take advantage of many opportunities such as my current position as the Writing and Communication Graduate Fellow at the Writing and Communication Centre (WCC).

What activities, groups, events are you involved in?

On campus, I am a member of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation (since 2018), a hub for expanding complex systems research and activities. Outside of campus, I currently volunteer at several places across Kitchener-Waterloo.

What campus services have you accessed?

The university has many great resources for students. I have particularly found that the Writing and Communication Centre, the Centre for Career Action, the Student Success Office, and Campus Wellness have been key for me to navigate the challenges of graduate school. I really encourage students to access counselling on campus while it is still affordable!

How do you spend your free time?

I try to always make time for family and friends by checking in when I can. In addition, I like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain!

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Prioritize your mental health and well-being. There are many events that will happen in your life that you will have no control over, so try to understand the lessons from those moments and use those as a source of growth. Try not to attach your self-esteem to how much you are producing. We are all capable beings and production is ephemeral, but kindness to yourself and other beings is everlasting.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share that is interesting about yourself?

I have seen When Harry Met Sally probably 100 times to date. I still experience something new in it every time I watch it.

Country of origin: USA/Canada

Domestic or International: Domestic

Academic stream: Research

Full-time or part-time: Full-time

Research supervisorDr. Steffanie Scott

Graduate student awards held: SSHRC Doctoral Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship, Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS-D), University of Waterloo

TA/RA or GRS held: TA/RA

University of Waterloo