On top of the world

Eugenie Jacobsen has always followed her curiosity. It’s taken her to Antarctica and the Canadian Arctic. And her concern for Arctic ecosystems led her to pursue her grad work at Memorial, where she has discovered her passion and one of the best places on earth to do her research.

Where are you from?
I’m from the Sunshine Coast, B.C. – a small town on the west coast of Canada!

Are you the first person in your family to go to grad school? If so, how did that shape your graduate experience?
I’m not the first person in my whole family to go to graduate school, but I am the first in my immediate family. My parents have been nothing but excited about the work that I have been doing, and in a lot of ways it feels like they get to experience grad school with me!

Where, and in what area, did you do your undergraduate or previous graduate work?
I did my bachelor of science at the University of British Columbia in oceanography and biology and then my master’s in fisheries science and technology at the Marine Institute here at Memorial University.

Why did you choose to pursue a graduate degree?
For as long as I can remember, I have always followed my curiosity. I found that when I completed my undergrad, I was even more curious about the natural world and had so many questions that I didn’t have the answers to. I realized that I needed a career where my curiosity could thrive, but to do that I needed the proper skillset to find the answers. That’s what led me to grad school – the desire to become a scientist.

Why did you choose Memorial for graduate studies?
My master’s project is what initially drew me to Memorial. I have always wanted to study Arctic ecosystems, and Newfoundland and Labrador was the perfect place for it. I came across my supervisor by finding one of his papers. I noticed that he was doing Arctic work that really aligned with my passions, and it turned out to be the perfect fit for me. In fact, it was so perfect that I decided to stay and do my PhD too! Another aspect that drew me to Memorial was that my project was in collaboration with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. That collaboration alone has opened so many more doors and work experiences.

What is your degree program and area of specialization?
I am currently doing my PhD in fisheries science and technology studying Arctic fish and zooplankton ecology in the Canadian Arctic and Labrador Sea.

Why did you choose this area of study?
Studying fisheries science in Newfoundland and Labrador was a no brainer! The importance of fisheries to the cultural and socio-economic practices of this province have made Memorial University and the Marine Institute leaders in fisheries innovation. All of my coursework was based around the resource allocation and fishing practices, but my thesis has morphed into more of an ecology-based program. I might not study Atlantic cod, but I do study some pretty cool deep-sea fish that I get to tell people about. My area of study now focuses on much larger systems to see how climate changes affect all kinds of fish – big and small.

How would you describe your experience as a graduate student at Memorial?
One word – opportunities. I have been fortunate to take part in five expeditions on a research icebreaker in the Canadian Arctic for my thesis and one expedition to Antarctica to look for the colossal squid. On top of life-changing field work, I have also been able to stay connected with my peers through the clubs that I have been a part of. I was the co-chair for the Marine Institute Graduate Society for two years, I co-run Science on the Rock where we host science talks at Quidi Vidi Brewery once a month, I was a blog writer for the School of Graduate studies, and I am now the host of the Marine Institute’s podcast WaveCast. I have gained so many skills from the opportunities at Memorial, and I can’t wait for what’s next to come during my PhD!

What is your research/thesis about? What is the goal of your research? What are the implications of your research project for the province, the country and the world?
My thesis is structured into three separate projects that I got to develop myself based on my own interests, the existing data we have, and the knowledge gaps identified by Indigenous Peoples. The first chapter is about understanding the distribution and abundance of pelagic fish across the whole Canadian Arctic, the second is about figuring out if Arctic fish are eating jellyfish using DNA analyses of their stomach contents, and the third chapter is about characterizing the biodiversity of fjords in Labrador using empirical data and qualitative surveys with Inuit fishers. All of this work is to gain baseline data for ecosystems that have not yet been studied and better understand how they will shift with future climate-driven changes (e.g. sea-ice melt, warming waters).

Why did you choose this research question/topic?
The Arctic is warming four times faster than the global average – a rate that is having profound, long-lasting effects on Arctic flora and fauna. I chose to study Arctic ecosystems because we need all hands on deck to understand these ecosystems before they change forever.

How do you work with your supervisor? Does your work involve other students?
My supervisor is a great mentor and has been very supportive for both my M.Sc. and PhD. We work well together because we have similar thought processes, and we both tend to look problems in the same way. I am lucky in that our lab is tight-knit so that we can help each other during the times when we feel stuck. Also, we often have projects that overlap with each other, so we can work together on many occasions.

Are there any difficulties in life that you’ve overcome to pursue graduate studies?
The biggest difficulty (or dragon – as my mom calls it) is imposter syndrome. It has been and continues to be something that I have to work through every day. The hardest part about graduate school isn’t the difficulty of work or tasks that you have to do, but the little voice in your head that tells you that you aren’t good enough to do them in the first place. My advice for anyone struggling with the same pestering voice is to acknowledge that it’s there, let it speak, and then send it on its way. Grad school isn’t just about the research that you do, but it’s also about the mental rigor and soft skills that you learn along the way. It’s about finding your voice, setting yourself apart with the knowledge that you know, and being open to learning the knowledge that you don’t know.

What are you planning to do after you complete your degree?
I have three pillars that make me me: 1) Arctic researcher, (2) science communicator, and (3) graphic designer and illustrator. In a perfect world, my career after my PhD would include all three!

Do you have any advice for current and/or future graduate students?
My best advice – say yes to the cool projects! You never know where it might take you, and you never know which doors you’ll open along the way.

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