Reflections on Summer Research

CNSCBlog

Hello! My name is Emma Traynor. I’m currently finishing up my stay as one of the Churchill Northern Studies Centre Seasonal Research Technicians. In September, I’ll be heading back to Saint John, New Brunswick to finish up a degree at UNB in marine biology. As my time at the CNSC comes to a close, it’s hard not to reflect on how I ended up in the Canadian Subarctic in the first place! So the following is my story on how I came to be at the CNSC, along with highlights throughout my two summers as a Seasonal Research Technician.

It first started when I was finishing up my second year of university. I thought that as a student, I’d love to get a “science job” to see if this is truly what I want to do in life. It just so happens that fate was on my side when a family friend who had visited the CNSC before, sent me the job posting for the summer student position in the science department. I took a chance and away went my resume. After finding out that I got the job, I quickly packed up my belongings and moved to Churchill, Manitoba!

When I first arrived in May 2018, I was blown away by the fact that there was still snow on the ground and the Hudson Bay was still frozen. This made me a little apprehensive, and the feeling that I was in over my head grew and grew! It wasn’t until I met and talked to some of the staff that my apprehension about the climate and job position decreased.

Like being in any new area, the learning curve was very steep. Even though I grew up in a remote area, this was a whole new ball game! During my first month, I eventually got more confident and familiar with the landscape. Time flew by that first summer and as soon as I knew it, it was time to leave and head back to school on the east coast with stories of the summer spent in the Canadian Subarctic.

Once I arrived back at school, I was able to put many of the skills I learned over the summer into practical use. These skills included different plant identification, various sampling techniques, how to spot subtle differences in transition zones, as well as how to identify wildlife such as birds. These were some of the field techniques I picked up along the way. There were a few other things that I didn’t realize I was learning at the time, such as how to be adaptable and think creatively. Adaptability is a big one that you learn at the CNSC, with plans changing and things coming up unexpectedly. With this skill I was able to bounce back in forth between classes and lab work without a second thought. Another skill I learned was creative thinking. And I know what you are thinking, it’s probably along the lines of, “Emma, science is a lot of knowledge based questions and procedures, not creative thinking” and you are not wrong, but what you come to learn at a field station is you need back up plans to your back up plans! For example, you might have the perfect outline for a project but then get into the field and realize it’s not as practical as you may think in the lab. The ability to think outside the box and create a new solution from seemingly nothing is a skill that can be applied to almost every aspect of life and I am so glad I learned it!

As the school year progressed my brain would always drift back to the CNSC, thinking about my time there and what everyone was doing. When spring rolled around, I knew that I wanted to be back up in Churchill! Thus, here I am back up here for round two! This time coming out to the CNSC again in May, the snow didn’t worry me, instead it was inviting. I felt as if I could appreciate it more, with it sparkling in the light and the trees still standing tall (well as tall as they can!) in defiance of the wind and snow that had beat at them all winter.

Additionally, I noticed that a lot of training and information I learned last summer came back right away and everything fell into place. In that moment, I think I realized that the CNSC is not just about environmental learning, even though that’s a big part, but of personal exploration as well. This all convinced me that this is the place I was meant to be and honestly, there is no other place I would rather be in the summer!

It’s very surreal to be back up in Churchill again for the second year in a row. I have to keep pinching myself to make sure I’m not dreaming! The landscape here still amazes me daily! With the rocky bluffs glittering in the sun as you stand on them looking out to the Hudson Bay, watching the belugas and wondering what tomorrow will bring with the sea breeze on your face. Even walking along the tundra, with the vegetation caressing your feet, inviting you to sink into it and releasing the aroma of peat, Labrador tea, and lichen that envelops your senses. This is the landscape that I have fallen in love with the past two years and this is the landscape I hope to preserve so that others can experience the same joy and awe that I have been fortunate enough to receive.

As my summer here comes to a close, it’s hard not to get slightly nostalgic thinking about all the amazing people and projects that I have interacted with, along with a handful of funny stories. For now though, I look forward to new adventures and of recounting my amazing time at the CNSC to anyone who will listen or anyone who has a few hours to kill! In the future I would encourage anyone who visits Churchill to live in the moment. Take those moments and let your senses process everything that is going on around you, not just the sights, but the sound of the birds or the waves lapping against the shore, just take it all in!