Graduating PhD students epitomize resilience and excellence
Six exceptional graduates talk about the ups and downs of earning their doctoral degrees
Six exceptional graduates talk about the ups and downs of earning their doctoral degreesBy Melanie Scott, Victoria Lumax University Relations
University of Waterloo is proud to highlight and honour some of our top PhD students who, through resilience, tenacity and excellence, will be graduating this spring. Below, six exceptional PhD students, one from each Waterloo faculty, share their impactful research, the passions that drove them, and what they will miss most (and least) about Waterloo.
What made McTavish’s experience at Waterloo memorable was fully embracing opportunities for growth and development. She offers this advice to other doctoral students:
“I never regretted trying out things that challenged my comfort level. This includes networking, scholarship and award applications, giving presentations and workshops, lecturing, publishing, the Three Minute Thesis competition, and even sitting down with an intimidating-looking group of senior scholars at a conference coffee break. Take advantage of every opportunity, even — especially — the ones that scare you.”
McTavish will miss the history PhD student office, which she describes as a place where both coffee and conversations about theory and historiography flowed freely. She says that those discussions greatly influenced the ways that she thought about her own research, as well as the approaches that she took when writing her dissertation.
McTavish is now putting her technical and research expertise to use at a Waterloo-based tech startup, joining a highly regarded team of subject matter experts.
Ending her time at Waterloo, Devoie will miss her co-supervisor, James Craig, who she describes as the nicest man in the world, her peers, who felt like family and her field site, which felt like home. She is looking forward to a break from her course work, which she describes as sometimes feeling like you’ve asked for a glass of water and then being given Niagara Falls (as a hydrologist, though, she doesn’t mind).
Devoie is currently continuing her study of permafrost through an NSERC-funded fellowship and hopes to do more fieldwork in the future. She believes permafrost thaw is an issue relevant to many, and recommends learning more through The Arctic Institute website as well as learning about small ways to reduce our personal impact on the environment.
Rafael Harun’s multidisciplinary background drove his interest in interdisciplinary research topics, which require a variety of scholarly perspectives and supports. This is one of the key reasons he chose the School of Planning at the University of Waterloo for his PhD.
“The University of Waterloo is one of the top universities in Canada,” Harun says. “The School of Planning hosts a number of world-renowned urban scholars who are experts in a number of areas of planning. Access to faculty members from diverse backgrounds and skillsets certainly influenced my decision."
Harun has many fond memories at Waterloo, including being congratulated by his supervisor and committee members on a successful defense, being awarded the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Doctoral Fellowship, and the numerous fun conversations he had with his supervisor, Dr. Pierre Filion, and other colleagues over lunch and coffee breaks.
Harun admits that his doctoral journey was not smooth, but he got through it by never losing hope. Instead of worrying about the future, Harun stayed committed to creating short-term goals and celebrating small wins.
“Always remember that every PhD student has a unique journey,” Harun says. “You cannot define your success or failure by comparing your experiences with those of your friends or colleagues. The only competition you have as a PhD student is you.”
Currently, Harun is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Wilfrid Laurier University/Balsillie School of International Affairs (BSIA) and has recently been offered a tenure-track Assistant Professor position with a reputed university in the US.
Ashley Flanagan treasures so much about her time at Waterloo, but what she will miss the most is her close-knit community that has been invaluable for discussing new ideas, venting frustrations to and challenging her to think critically and theoretically about everything she does.
Flanagan’s dissertation research explored the experiences and perceptions of transgender and non-binary older adults as they negotiate the successes, challenges and desire for community support in old age. Her work looks to challenge understandings of aging, gender and identity that are often taken for granted and to reimagine understandings of aging that are more inclusive and representative of the vast array of experiences of aging and old age.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic has made incredibly clear, we need to start prioritizing care and support for older adults — especially those who are more marginalized by our society,” says Flanagan. “To do this, we need to radically rethink existing approaches to elder care and the systems that uphold these approaches—across Canada and internationally.”
Flanagan is grateful for her supervisor, Dr. Lisbeth Berbary, whose teaching, mentorship and friendship have played a huge role in the person and scholar that she is today. Her advice to others pursuing their PhDs: “Do your best to build a support network. Whether it’s building relationships with your peers (inside and outside of academia) or finding a supportive mentor and supervisor, it’s important to have people who ‘get it’ in your court to remind you why you started, help you through the challenges, and celebrate your successes—because, trust me, there will be a mix of highs and lows!”
Flanagan is currently a Research Fellow in diversity and ageing at the National Institute on Ageing at Ryerson University. In this role, she has the opportunity to work with leading advocates for older adults in Canada and internationally and continues to push the needle towards a more just and inclusive society.
One thing she won’t miss about Waterloo: the geese.
Albayrak currently works at the University of Waterloo as a lecturer with the Mathematics Undergraduate Group (MUG). Because of the pandemic, she especially misses seeing people in-person and saying hi to them in the fifth-floor hallway of the MC building. She hopes to return to campus soon and reconnect with her math colleagues and community.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity … I think this was a unique aspect of my studies, something that most students do not have access to.”
Wiebe went on to be a finalist at the UW GRADflix competition, where he presented his entire research story in under one minute. Currently, Wiebe is working on a postdoc at McGill University, where he assists in developing tools to assess groundwater vulnerability in northern Canada.
What Wiebe will miss most about his studies at Waterloo is the Engineering Coffee & Doughnuts shop in the CPH building, which he describes as having nice pastries, affordable prices and makes for an excellent study break.
What he will miss least: a noisy fire panel in the EIT building foyer.
The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is centralized within our Office of Indigenous Relations.