New PhDs ready to take on the big challenges
Waterloo celebrates a new cohort of doctoral graduates at 2023 Spring Convocation
Waterloo celebrates a new cohort of doctoral graduates at 2023 Spring ConvocationBy University Relations
Completing a PhD is at once the end and the beginning of a journey of exploration and discovery in a student’s academic career.
The biggest hurdle for many PhD students is the formal dissertation defence, while the convocation ceremony itself is often a moment of reflection on their journey and where they plan to go from here. That, and a time of celebration.
Join us as we celebrate the accomplishments of some of this year’s graduating PhD students who will be crossing the stage at the 2023 Spring Convocation.
Dr. Carlos Andrés Araiza Iturria recently completed a PhD in actuarial science. His doctoral research and dissertation, “Discrimination in insurance pricing,” was co-supervised by Dr. Mary Hardy and Dr. Paul Marriott.
The main objective of his research is to understand when and how either direct or indirect discrimination can arise in insurance pricing and suggest feasible guidelines that can mitigate its detrimental impact on society.
“The University of Waterloo has the best school for people pursuing studies in actuarial science in the whole world,” he says. “It has the largest and most prestigious full-time faculty in the field and the researchers here are pioneers in most areas.”
Araiza Iturria says that the thing he will miss most about being a PhD student is working with his supervisors, who always challenged him to excel and learn new things.
“I think that people who finish their PhD with a smile on their face are those that do two things,” he continues. “They research what they are passionate about, and they don’t let their degree consume their whole life. At the end of the day, we need to love and be loved, have fun and stay healthy.”
Dr. Mallory Drysdale completed a PhD program in public health sciences under the supervision of Dr. Brian Laird. Her research looked at human exposure to contaminants and nutrients in northern Canada, with a focus on traditional foods, which are locally hunted and gathered.
Drysdale traveled to the community of Old Crow, which is above the Arctic Circle in the Yukon, with a research team that worked with community partners to measure levels of contaminants in people, like heavy metals and pesticides, and nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids.
“I chose to study at Waterloo to work with Dr. Brian Laird,” Drysdale says. “Dr. Laird works with a strong team of researchers and partners at the University of Waterloo, other universities and with partner communities in the North. These partnerships allow his graduate students the opportunity to conduct rigorous research while also fostering important relationships for future careers.”
Asked for any advice she would offer students starting a PhD, Drysdale suggests it is important to take the long-view and have an idea what they want to do with their degree.
“Any student who is considering pursuing a PhD should try to make a plan for their career before beginning the program,” she says. “I started my studies with a clear vision for my post-PhD career, and this informed the classes I took, as well as the direction of my research.”
Dr. Dylan Jubinville completed a PhD in chemical engineering. His research project and dissertation, “Highly filled, durable, and sustainable wood-plastic composites from recycled thermoplastics,” was completed under the supervision of Dr. Tizazu Mekonnen.
His research focused on the recycling and reuse of plastic waste for use in bio-based, heavily filled composites, such as wood-plastic or hemp-plastic composites for construction applications.
But for Jubinville, working toward a PhD wasn’t just about the research. He also got involved in campus and community initiatives, including one that especially stands out in his mind.
“One of my fondest memories as a University of Waterloo student was volunteering at the FIRST LEGO League robots competition,” he says. “I got to help young students, aged ten to 14, test their Lego robots before having their robots compete in the various challenges.”
Jubinville is already on to the next stage of his academic career, having started a post-doctoral fellowship. He intends to continue working in a university or research lab setting.
“Waterloo is a great place to grow your academic career and create personal connections with colleagues,” he says. “I’m going to miss most the mentorship of my supervisors and guidance of my committee members, who all helped to shaped me into an independent and successful researcher.”
Dr. Jennifer Kandjii recently completed a PhD program in global governance through the Faculty of Arts. Her dissertation, “Xenophobic citizenship, unsettling space, and constraining borders,” analyzed how various actors, including the state, citizens, civil society, refugees and the media, intersect to shape refugee experiences in urban centers in South Africa.
“I chose to study at the University of Waterloo in part because I was interested in the Balsillie School of International Affairs, an institute for advanced research, education and outreach in the fields of global governance and international public policy,” she says. “The school’s focus and unrivalled ability to lead thinking and develop new solutions to humanity’s critical problems while contributing to improving the quality of people’s lives globally resonated powerfully with my sense of life purpose.”
Kandjii says that a big part of the PhD experience for her was getting involved in events and opportunities on campus. She says that events organized by the Centre for Career Action, the Writing and Communication Centre and the Student Success Office supported her learning outside the classroom and were instrumental her success.
“If there’s one piece of advice I would give to current students, it’s to take advantage of these services and supports at the University,” she says.
As for what’s next, Kandjii is continuing her career at Simon Fraser University, where she works as director of equity, diversity and inclusion for Student Services and co-ordinator of the Hallman Chair Initiative at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Dr. Niloofar Mohtat completed a PhD in planning through Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment. Her research and PhD dissertation focused on climate adaptation and climate justice, and specifically in relation to flood risks in Toronto.
“I focused on Toronto as the case study, and I did some GIS analysis in Toronto to find the neighborhood that is experiencing the highest levels of flood risks, which is Thorncliffe Park” she says.
As she explains, Thorncliffe Park is vulnerable to climate risks both because of the built environment and because of social factors affecting the community. It is a low-income neighbourhood, and in an emergency, people may not have access to financial resources to cope with disasters.
“My time at Waterloo has been a great experience,” she says. “I am from Iran, and this has been my first experience at a foreign university. Working with University of Waterloo professors has enriched my research. I especially learned a lot from my supervisor, Dr. Luna Khirfan.”
As for what’s next, Mohtat says she is interested in pursuing further academic work and possibly also working in the government sector.
“I will be a sessional instructor at the School of Planning, and at the same time I might get a contract from Public Safety Canada. These are two great opportunities and I’m looking forward to learning more from the experiences.”
Dr. Ryan Moreira recently completed a PhD in chemistry, studying the action mechanism of daptomycin, a clinical antibiotic currently used as a last resort to treat infections with drug resistant bacteria.
“I completed by BSc at the University of Waterloo in 2017,” Moreira says. “As a student in the co-op program during undergrad, I had the opportunity to work as a researcher in both academia and industry. I learned that I was very passionate about science and solving complex problems, like those found in the labs at the University of Waterloo.”
“Ultimately, I chose to complete my PhD at the University of Waterloo because I found the faculty here, especially my supervisor Dr. Scott Taylor, shared my enthusiasm for science and solving important problems,” he continues.
Having completed his PhD, Moreira is continuing his academic work and was awarded the NSERC postdoctoral fellowship and the Life Science Research Fellowship. He is taking this opportunity to continue his research in Dr. Wilfred van der Donk’s lab at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
While he is looking forward to this next stage in his career, he is also leaving with fond memories of his time at Waterloo.
“I met so many unique and intelligent people at the University of Waterloo and it was very hard to say goodbye to them.”
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 co-ordinated within our Office of Indigenous Relations.