How has ACUNS helped your northern studies?

Over the years, the ACUNS awards program has supported hundreds of post-secondary students in their educational and research endeavors. Here, some of our recipients tell us about their scholarships in northern studies.

Kethra Campbell-Heaton

Dr. Weston Blake Jr. Memorial Doctoral Scholarship (2022-2023)

“I am so grateful to have received the Dr. Weston Blake Jr. Memorial Doctoral Scholarship for the 2022-2023 academic year. This scholarship has allowed me to focus on my PhD project without the financial stress usually accompanied with graduate studies. My PhD project seeks to understand how permafrost thaw affects the hydrological regime of a High Arctic polar-oasis environment. This scholarship gave me the financial freedom to conduct fieldwork this past summer without having to worry about how I would financially recover when I return. It has allowed me to feel comfortable presenting my work at a National Conference because I know that I can afford it. Moreover, this support has made me feel like my work matters and for that, I am so grateful. To future applicants – apply! The work put in is worth it.”

Kethra Campbell-Heaton
University of Ottawa

Madelaine Bourdages

Canadian Northern Studies Trust (CNST) Scholarship (2022-2023)

“Receiving the CNST Scholarship has allowed me to focus more of my time and energy on my research while also maintaining a healthy work-life balance. My research aims to quantify and characterize microplastic abundance and composition in Arctic freshwater environments, and to better understand the sources, transport pathways, and fate of microplastics in these environments. This research has brought me to the Northwest Territories the past two summers to work in several communities to collect samples. The CNST Scholarship has greatly helped to reduce financial stress that often accompanies being a graduate student and has permitted me to put additional effort into developing my research project as well as fostering strong relationships with these communities.

My advice to students interested in applying for scholarships would be to make sure you spend the time to develop your project proposal and be sure to consider how your research could benefit the communities you plan to work in or near, as well as how members from these communities can be involved in your research.

My other advice would be to not be afraid to apply. It’s easy to convince yourself that you may not be qualified enough or competitive enough, but in reality, you wouldn’t be here if that were the case. And if you don’t succeed, know that there are more applications to apply to in future years.”

Madelaine Bourdages
Department of Geography and Environmental Studies
Carleton University

Krista Ulujuk Zawadski

POLAR Northern Resident Scholarship (2020-2021)

“My field of research centres around Inuit visual storytelling, Inuit oral histories and family histories, and the entanglements Inuit families have in museum collections. My research melds together different disciplines, including anthropology and archaeology, art history and Indigenous research methodologies and theories.

The POLAR Northern Resident Scholarship has supported me in ways that have made my scholarship more successful. By supporting my work, I have been able to focus more on enhancing the research and building strong relationships with communities.

The biggest challenge about my pursuing my research in Nunavut has been complications or barriers imposed by COVID-related restrictions. A lot of my research plans have been altered, postponed or completely cancelled because of the pandemic, which has affected my overall research in both positive and negative ways. On the one hand, the challenges have really narrowed the focus of my research, which is positive in the sense that it has become a more manageable project. On the other hand, it has been disappointing to see my original project vision altered dramatically. The whole experience, thus far, has taught me to be more open to changes in the life of your project; some things are just out of your control and you have to be prepared for that.

I think this perspective also stems from my upbringing, whereby Inuit often have the perspective that adaptability in difficult situations is important. Ajurnarmat – it cannot be helped – is a common phrase in my vocabulary.

My advice for students applying for scholarships is when you ask for a reference letter, come prepared: have an updated CV or resume ready; any background notes about yourself and your work is useful; and, bring attention to anything that you feel would highlight your strengths that the referee can build upon.”

Krista Ulujuk Zawadski
Cultural Mediations
Carleton University

Lucas Brehaut

CNST Scholarship (2018-2019)
“Being awarded the CNST Scholarship allowed me to have the opportunity to catch my breath during my graduate studies. My PhD research was centered around understanding how various disturbance regimes (i.e., forest fires, insects, and wood harvesting) would change under climate change across the Canadian subarctic. Living and working on my PhD in St. John’s while establishing research sites from Yukon to the island of Newfoundland brought many unique challenges in maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The support from the CSNT Scholarship significantly reduced the many financial stressors of graduate school. This financial relief allowed me to take the time to really think about the research questions I was asking, bolster research methods, and make new long-lasting collaborations. As simplistic as it may sound, all of this was achieved while having fun. I will forever look back on my PhD with pride and only be met with fond memories.

The only advice I could offer to other graduate students about applying for scholarships would be this: apply!

Often times, imposter syndrome rears its head and tells us we are unqualified or undeserving of recognition. This is simply not true. You have made it to where you are based on your determination, perseverance, and extensive qualifications.

From my own experience, these are some of the qualities that matter most to scholarship organizations. So, apply! And if you don’t succeed the first time, know that there are many future opportunities to take advantage of.”

Lucas Brehaut, PhD
Department of Geography
Memorial University of Newfoundland

Erika Hille

POLAR Northern Resident Scholarship (2020-2021)
“The POLAR Northern Resident Scholarship has, quite simply, helped me survive the academic and personal demands brought on during the pandemic. I live in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, with my two young children, and I had to take a leave from work to do the in-residence portion of my doctoral degree in geography at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. The financial support from POLAR offset the high cost of living in the north. I was able to extend my fieldwork in the north beyond September – an exceptional opportunity since there is little research on the geochemical responses of streams and rivers to permafrost thaw that continues into winter. As a northerner, I think it is important to demonstrate your knowledge of, and investment in northern communities, and not be shy about promoting yourself.”

Erika Hille
Queen’s University

Joni Tsatchia
and grandmother, Marguerite

POLAR Northern Resident Award (2019-2020)
“Winning my POLAR Northern Resident Award is recognition of my academic achievements and a reminder of my personal accomplishments. When I first started down this path, I remember second-guessing myself. Here I am, an older student and a parent living in the Northwest Territories. I am a good example of what you can achieve with motivation and support from the community. Age isn’t going to stop me. I’m finishing an internship, working with an elder and mentor to teach the Tlicho language, and looks forward to a teaching position with the school board. Down the road, I would like to pursue a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education.

The monetary value of the award also helped reduce my financial stress and allowed me to focus on completing my studies. I encourage students from the Northwest Territories to take advantage of student financial support. Apply for awards and scholarships. It is a time-consuming task – and when you’re in school you don’t have a lot of spare time – but if you keep a filing system of transcripts and support letters, you just need to tweak them as needed to meet the criteria of the applications.

Go further in life with your studies.”

Joni Tsatchia
Aurora College / University of Saskatchewan

Crystal Milligan

POLAR Northern Resident Scholarship (2019-2020)
“I am a white settler Canadian whose family has lived more than sixty years in Sǫ̀mba K’è (Yellowknife, NT) on Chief Drygeese Territory, home to the Weledeh Yellowknives Dene. My PhD journey so far has been a wonderful opportunity for critical self-reflection regarding my responsibilities, particularly as a non-Indigenous researcher in relationship with Indigenous community partners. ACUNS support has helped me to nurture these relationships, enhance the quality of collaboration that drives my research, and strengthen my capacity to give back to the communities that guide my work. In particular, the POLAR Northern Resident Scholarship helped make it possible for me to spend a year in Inuvik, NT as a researcher embedded within the Gwich’in Tribal Council, one of my research partners. Travel costs between Yellowknife and Inuvik alone would have been prohibitive without this scholarship.

I’ve now signed on for another year in Inuvik with GTC. My research placement within GTC has transitioned to a full-time position managing their health and wellness team, which hopefully means my colleagues here value my contributions as much as I value learning together with them through our joint projects! I am not sure what the future holds, but I can feel this experience living and working further North—outside my urban and accessible hometown of Yellowknife—shifting my perspective and deepening my insight into northern communities’ healthcare challenges and needs. This will make me better at what I continue to do as a health systems researcher and practitioner.

I absolutely encourage other students to similarly jump into new experiences so that they can gain new perspective on their work. I would especially love to see more and more northern and Indigenous students taking up such opportunities and leading the way in research that privileges northern and Indigenous perspectives and knowledges.”

Crystal Milligan
University of Toronto
Health Services Research & Collaborative Specialization in Indigenous Health

William Twardek

POLAR Scholarship (2020-2021)
“The POLAR Scholarship recognizes the importance of interdisciplinary research if we are to address many of the most pressing issues northern communities face. This scholarship has supported my work in the Yukon, aiming to better understand how fishways can facilitate salmon movement beyond barriers like dams. I believe this and other ACUNS scholarships are uniquely positioned to financially support graduate students that often must spend long periods in the North to build lasting relationships and understanding of the local communities and ecosystems they are working in. I also benefited from increased awareness through the ACUNS communication channels. Shortly after ACUNS shared news of my POLAR Scholarship, I was contacted by CBC to discuss my research live on the radio. It was clear this greatly increased exposure of my project in the community. All this to say, I am very thankful for the support provided by the Polar Scholarship, and I look forward to returning to the Yukon to discuss ways of implementing my research findings in the community. I would highly recommend that students interested in northern research and ecosystems seek out the opportunities available with ACUNS and to help contribute to their goal of facilitating collaborative research, knowledge mobilization, and education in the North.”

William Twardek
Department of Biology
Carleton University

Alison Perrin

POLAR Northern Resident Award Scholarship (2018-2019)
“ACUNS has done a great job of supporting students doing their research in the North and building a community amongst those students. The POLAR Northern Resident Award Scholarship has made a big difference for me financially going back to school to pursue my PhD. I appreciate that ACUNS supports northern residents in their studies, making it easier for me to balance the high costs of living in the North and also traveling between university and home. As someone studying in the social sciences in the North, there are less scholarships available, and ACUNS has opened up opportunities to access funding. The ACUNS student conference was a great way to meet other northern scholars, share my work in a supportive environment, and start building a network amongst early career northern researchers.”

Alison Perrin, PhD Candidate
Department of Geography and Environmental Studies
Carleton University

Frédéric Bouchard

From Canada to France

“For a three-year period (2014-2016) while doing my postdoctoral research, I was privileged to receive an ACUNS award that enabled me to carry out my work during several field seasons in the Canadian Arctic (Nunavut) as well as attend both national and international conferences. Not only were my research findings published in international journals, but I was also able to develop a network of collaborators in areas of interest, among these the permafrost, lakes in the Canadian Arctic, the functioning of greenhouse gases and general climate change in Northern Canada. This experience proved so impressive on my resumé that I was subsequently granted a research contract in French as part of the ‘Make Our Planet Great Again’ initiative launched by the French President in 2017. My entire journey thus far, including the support I received from ACUNS, was nothing but positive.”

Frédéric Bouchard, Ph. D.
Chercheur / Researcher
GEOPS – Géosciences Paris Sud
Université Paris Saclay

Megan Sheremata

POLAR Scholarship (2017-2018)
“ACUNS recognizes the critical role of rigorous social sciences methodologies in transdisciplinary environmental research in Inuit Nunagat, which has led to the creation of unique funding opportunities for those of us working closely with remote communities. After receiving the ACUNS-POLAR scholarship, ACUNS ensured I was meeting my obligations to the donor in terms of progress reporting, which was very helpful as I was in the field during much of that time. They also shared the news of my award widely, helping me build new connections within my field of research, and provided me with a range of opportunities for sharing the results of my work in various fora.”

Megan Sheremata, PhD Candidate
Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences
University of Toronto

Meaghan Weatherdon

Dr. Jim McDonald Scholarship (2018-2019)

“Over the past three years I have been working in collaboration with Whapmagoostui First Nation to conduct an oral history project about the Journey of Nishiiyuu. The Journey of Nishiiyuu was a social movement in which Cree and Inuit youth from Whapmagoostui, Québec travelled 1600 km by foot to Ottawa, Ontario to demonstrate strength and solidarity among Indigenous Nations during the winter of 2013. The Journey of Nishiiyuu is a profound example of how Indigenous youth are enacting their own visions of self-determination on the ground and leading the way towards more socially just and environmentally flourishing futures. Community centered research requires building meaningful, mutually beneficial, long term, and reciprocal relationships with community. The Dr. Jim McDonald scholarship has empowered me to continue to work in partnership with the community, to honour the relationships that make this research possible and extend beyond it. For example, with the assistance of ACUNS I was able to attend the Whapmagoostui First Nation’s annual cultural gathering last August where I visited with and offered updates on my research to the community. This summer I will be returning to Whapmagoostui to give presentations, share final drafts of my dissertation, and work towards a final product that I hope honours those who walked in the Journey of Nishiiyuu.”

Meaghan Weatherdon, Ph.D candidate
Department for the Study of Religion/Department for Environmental Studies
University of Toronto