Linda Lait, a PhD candidate in Biology, is the recipient of a $50,000 W. Garfield Weston Award for Northern Research (Doctoral) from the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies (ACUNS).
Originally from Scotland, Ms. Lait holds two bachelor degrees and a masters from the Universities of Edinburgh in the UK and Lethbridge in Alberta. She says the funds will aid her in her research into population genetics in marine fish species.
“The scholarship is for students who want to, or are already doing field work in the North as part of their project,” she explained. “It’s meant to encourage people to do field work and to help cover costs, because it is very expensive to do research up North.”
Ms. Lait will spent her first field season in coastal Labrador in early September and has plans to do a more extensive trip to Baffin Island next year.
“I wasn't expecting to get the scholarship, so I hadn't started planning anything. I found out toward the end of May that I had received it, and there was no way I could plan a large-scale field excursion in that amount of time. So I planned a trip to Labrador this year and Nunavut for next year.”
While in Labrador, Ms. Lait worked with local fishers to collect DNA and RNA samples from ocean-going cod, all organized through the local conservation officers. However, in Baffin Island she’ll be looking at land-locked lake populations, working with the local hunter and trapper organizations.
“For my project I'm using genetics to see whether there are any differences between the cod populations and trying to understand why those differences might be. For instance, the lake populations of cod on Baffin Island could be very different than the ocean-going populations in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“We're also looking at what kind of gene flow goes on between populations, because if you have a healthy but isolated population you could potentially increase the fishing quota there, but if it's completely connected to other populations and they're not doing very well, then fishing that population will also affect the others.”
Ms. Lait adds that field work is a great way to involve the community in research and get them more interested in science.
“I’ve been to Happy Valley-Goose Bay for my masters but I’ve never been further north than that; it’s very exciting. I was absolutely shocked when they called to tell me I had the scholarship. It just goes to show you may as well apply for everything because you never know.”
For more than 30 years, the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies (ACUNS) has successfully promoted the advancement of northern scholarship through its mandate and programs. The Canadian Northern Studies Trust is the awards program of ACUNS. Its purpose is to develop a cadre of scholars and scientists with northern experience and at the same time, enhance the educational opportunities available for northern residents to obtain post-secondary education at Canadian universities and colleges.