Transient Researcher to (Semi) Permanent Resident


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Unlike Anubha, my migration northeast involved tentative baby steps rather than a giant leap of faith. So, instead of offering 8 Easy Steps, I thought I would share my story of how I transitioned from a transient researcher to a (semi) permanent resident.

Part 1: The Opportunity

I have always been intrigued by the Arctic (well, ever since I read Julie of the Wolves in grade four), but I never thought I would have the opportunity to actually go there. However, all of that changed when I started doing some preliminary scoping for my prospective graduate studies.

My search for a Master’s topic and supervisor was pragmatic at best. It went something like: 1) “Where do I want to live that can rival the west coast?” (Montreal or Halifax), 2) “Which programs offer funding?” (thesis-based rather than course-based), and 3) “What research project can keep me entertained for two years?” (one that involves travel and people).

It didn’t take long for me to find a reputable school, an amazing research group, and a personally fascinating thesis topic. The Climate Change Adaptation Research Group at McGill University focuses on how changing climatic conditions affect indigenous populations. My research topic would look at how changing sea ice conditions affect Inuit hunters’ ability to harvest wildlife, and how that affects community members’ ability to obtain country food. My study location would bring me to Iqaluit, Nunavut.

Part 2: The Offer

Over my two-year degree, I was incredibly lucky to visit Iqaluit five times. I forged wonderful friendships, I went hunting at the floe edge, I was taught how to build an igloo, I braved many nights at Old Res, and I learned to love this once-foreign place.

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My fifth and final trip up north was bittersweet. I was happy to have completed my thesis (on time - a miracle), but I was sad to be likely leaving forever (or at least until I could afford the airfare - after back-to-back degrees that seemed like eternity). My final trip provided me with an opportunity to share my research findings with the community that had shared so much with me. It also provided me with an unanticipated job offer.

Part 3: The Simple Secret

Although I had already managed to navigate through Anubha’s first five steps as a transient researcher, the impending transition to a (semi) permanent resident was a daunting one. With my Vancouver Island home being 3,500 kilometers and a $3,000 airplane ticket away, I knew I would be sacrificing a lot.

Then I had an epiphany. It was not particularly profound, yet it filled me with a tremendous amount of ease. It was this:

Living up north offers more opportunities than it requires sacrifices.

Simple, no? But it was in this moment that I suddenly understood everything in a very clear way. Sure, I might not be able to ride my bike along farmers’ fields, or go salmon fishing with my parents, or enjoy the basic day-to-day activities that I miss so much. However, I am able to snowmobile along the endless sea ice, celebrate the 24-hour twilight of the summer solstice, and watch the northern lights dance across the sky.

Part 4: The Take-Home Message

Sometimes I think about all the things I have missed back home while I have been in Nunavut. But then I think about all the things I would have missed in Nunavut if I would have been back home.

For me, for now, it’s all worth it.

Photo credit to Graham McDowell for the first two photos.