Student RA’s summer in the wilderness yields new passion for research and exploration

September 15, 2023

This summer, Matthew Syvenky challenged himself by doing something new. As part of a project seeking to better understand the retreat of the last ice age in B.C., he spent two months in the wilderness of B.C.’s Cariboo region as a research assistant, camping alongside Jonathan Cripps and project lead Alex Sodeman from the Department of Geography.

Each day, Matthew woke up early to visit landforms in remote locations, where he would examine layers of sediment through physical digging and the use of geophysical equipment like light detection and ranging (LiDAR) and ground penetrating radar (GPR).

“I gained experience using hand tools,” he says, “and I gained hands-on geology and geophysical experience by using these really complex technological tools to learn about some really interesting stuff.”

As a resource and environmental management student who recently chose to minor in physical geography, Matthew was new to geology and geomorphology and went into the experience eager to learn. It was this same excitement and curiosity that led to the opportunity in the first place, he says, explaining that his instructor reached out because of the enthusiasm he showed in his geomorphology class last fall.

While he had previously done field work, this was Matthew’s first research assistant position. He says it has given him a new perspective of the research process, realizing what he did not fully appreciate before—that everything he learns in class was once discovered by someone in the field doing similar things.

“Being part of these discoveries and collecting data that could hopefully go on to shape ideas and answer questions I have is really exciting,” he says. “It has made me much more intrigued in the natural world and how much there is left to learn.”

Over the course of these two months, Matthew also learned a lot about himself.

“It was a really great opportunity to be introspective,” he shares. “One of the highlights for me was getting to be in unobstructed nature for two months… It’s quiet. The only sound you can hear is the wind and the sound of the rocks falling while you’re digging.”

This experience was the longest he has ever been away from home and the furthest he has been into the interior of B.C., but being away from his social life, family, and modern luxuries—like running water—taught Matthew resiliency and self-reliance. “I learned what I can do, and I learned that I have a passion for exploring and being outdoors doing this sort of field work. It was a fun adventure.”