Graduate Student of the Month - Natasha Leclerc

Natasha Leclerc is a first year master’s student in the archaeology program at Memorial. After completing her undergraduate degree in archaeology at the University of Toronto and working in British Columbia on the ‘shíshálh Archaeological Research Project’ as a supervisor in the summer of 2015, she relocated to the other side of the continent to research the role of shellfish in hunter-gatherer economies on the Pacific northwest coast, specifically in the shíshálh territory that holds a special place in her heart. To build on her experience in carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis and skills in faunal remains identification, Natasha is expanding her knowledge of British Columbian archaeology and her methodological skills in biological and geochemical analysis of archaeological shellfish material at Memorial.

How and why did you decide to attend Memorial for your graduate degree?

My current supervisor Dr. Meghan Burchell first drew me to MUN because of the exciting and inspiring work she was doing here. Looking into other benefits of choosing MUN I found that it had an archaeology department separate from anthropology meaning that it would be highly specialized with a greater number of professors that also specialize in the field. Another plus was that the department had a lab equipped specifically for the type of analysis I would be doing. All in all, MUN seemed to be the best place for me to develop my skills and to be mentored by a great group of experts.

What drew you to explore archaeology?

I think that my love for history and my curious attitude drove me to pursue archaeological research. Like many of my peers, I grew up watching the History Channel. I would watch documentaries and observe how archaeologists were always the ones on the ground finding physical evidence to build a well-rounded picture of history, and I wanted to be just like them. Going into my undergraduate degree I thought I wanted to study Egyptology and quickly changed my views after reading a short section in my Introduction to Archaeology textbook that spoke about North American archaeology. I thought “there must be more to it than just this short section” and this drew me to take a course on northwest coast archaeology, I’ve been running with it ever since.

Can you tell us a bit about your current research?

Currently I’m studying the archaeology of the Pacific northwest coast. Specifically I’m researching the intensity of clam harvesting as well as a seasonal settlement patterns of Coast Salish people from the shíshálh territory, just north of Vancouver, B.C. This type of research is accomplished with a combination of stable oxygen isotope analysis of butter clam shells and shell growth analysis. The integration of my work with previous research in the region and comparison between regions on the Pacific northwest coast will provide a more nuanced understanding of the role of shellfish in the local economy, and challenge dominant notions of seasonal mobility.

A supervisor can be key to the success of any grad student. What does your supervisor Meghan Burchell bring to her role as your advisor and mentor?

When I first started looking into potential supervisors at different universities it became clear to me that Dr. Meghan Burchell was the best person to mentor me through my graduate studies. She is well known and connected in the Pacific northwest coast archaeology community and doing work that is contributing new knowledge to the field with exciting new methods. Since starting my program, she has been very invested in mentoring me to be a better a researcher and has involved me in multiple interesting projects. We have recently started working on an experimental project that may evolve into the development of a new method to assist in answering archaeological questions relating to seasonal timing of site occupation.

Have you attended any conferences/delivered any papers this year? Can you give details?

Before starting my first semester I attended the Canadian Archaeological Association Conference hosted in St. John’s in April, which gave me the opportunity to network with archaeologists from across the country and those I am now working closely with at MUN. This year, I am contributing to two conference posters, one for the Society for the American Archaeology Conference in April on the experimental work I mentioned above and another for the International Sclerochronology Conference were I will hopefully present a poster along with my supervisor and fellow student Anna Sparrow in June.

Are you involved in any organizations on-campus or off? If so, can you explain and detail such involvement?

I am a contributor for the School of Graduate Studies Student Blog – My Master Plan – where I write about my experiences at MUN during my first year of grad school. It’s a great place to learn about other students who are experiencing life at MUN and in St. John’s for the first time like me and a great way to promote the school to students who are thinking about applying to MUN.

What do you like most about being a graduate student at Memorial?

You feel like you’re part of a team here. I like how when I arrive to the archaeology department I feel supported by my peers and faculty members. I’ve been in situations in the past were going to school felt like attending a competition, but at MUN there is a sense of comradeship where everyone wants everyone to succeed and contribute to academic knowledge.

What do you hope to do after completing your graduate degree?

I hope to move on to a PhD program in archaeology, hopefully near the Pacific Coast, where I can continue contributing to method development and research on seasonal migrations and shellfish harvesting practices of different peoples who lived along the coast in the past.


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