The challenges and rewards of academic research
July 16, 2018
Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)
MSc, UBC Okanagan (2010)
BSc, UBC Okanagan (2007)
“Having an informal relationship with my peers and professors was very important in developing connections.”
THE GREAT OUTDOORS has always been Ryan Whitehouse’s calling.
Growing up in Ontario, admittedly struggling in high school, even dropping out, his lessons learned through activities such as camping, fishing and hiking cemented his love for the outdoors. It’s what inspired him to move to British Columbia.
Whitehouse ultimately found work with an environmental consulting firm, carrying out fishery and forestry surveys throughout northern BC.
“I enjoyed every minute of it,” he says. “After a few years, I recognized this was the future I wanted. I also realized that in order to make a career out of it, I needed to get a degree.”
After taking transferrable first-year science courses at the College of New Caledonia (Prince George, BC), Whitehouse turned to a larger institution, in particular the Freshwater Science program at UBC Okanagan while the Kelowna campus was transforming from its predecessor, the Okanagan University College.
Looking back at his undergraduate studies, Whitehouse credits “very influential professors” he met along the way. The summer prior to his graduating year, Whitehouse was awarded an Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Award to carry out a research project in the Okanagan with Jeff Curtis, associate professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
“That experience demonstrated how challenging and rewarding academic research could be,” Whitehouse says. “At the conclusion of this research project, I knew I wanted to complete a master’s degree. I worked well with Dr. Curtis and loved the Okanagan. It was an easy decision to stay and continue studying at UBC Okanagan.”
YOURS TO DISCOVER
A memory that stays with Whitehouse was finding professors at the Students’ Union Pub, The Well, on a Friday afternoon.
“From my perspective, having this informal relationship with my peers and professors was very important in developing connections and a network that was imperative to me succeeding in school,” he says.
Beyond the Okanagan campus community that contributed to his UBC experience, Whitehouse also praises the space and services provided by the Library.
“Believe it or not, I fondly look back on the hours spent in the study rooms at the library. I met some great friends, including my wife, at the library. The people and friendships I made while studying at the library helped me through challenging courses; they motivated me to challenge myself; and we all celebrated our successes along the way.”
Graduating in 2010 with a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Environmental Sciences, Whitehouse reflects on his journey in graduate school as the most fulfilling experience of his life: “I had the opportunity to meet and work with exceptional and passionate people, many of which remain close friends to this day.”
Today Whitehouse can be found at the Ministry of Forest, Lands & Natural Resource Operations, where he works as a Senior Aquatic Ecologist implementing the province’s new Environmental Flow Needs Policy, which will accompany the proposed Water Sustainability Act.
“My UBC experience provided me with many important skills,” Whitehouse says. “It taught me to embrace challenging situations and how to creatively work my way through to a successful conclusion. I learned how to seek out opportunities and how to learn from experienced mentors and peers with different perspectives.
In his current role, Whitehouse says he’s faced with complex problems that involve a wide variety of stakeholders and numerous potential tradeoffs. Because of this, he adds, it is important to listen and to consider all viewpoints and ideas in order to achieve a workable solution that can be adopted by all parties.
“Growing up, I was a reluctant learner. My experience in the Environmental Sciences program at UBC however, showed me the importance of pursuing a field of study that both interested and challenged me.
“At UBC Okanagan, I was fortunate to be in an academic setting with access to expert professors and mentors, while learning about a field of study that I truly enjoy and continue to be involved in.”
—by May Li