"I applied for an MSc. in Geography working in the Climate Research Lab - this is where I fell in love with climate modelling. I am now pursuing my third degree in the same research lab and I have no regrets!"

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Rachel Chimuka

January 18, 2024

Geography doctoral student in the Faculty of Environment

Tell us a little about yourself, including what inspires you to learn and continue in your chosen field

I am an international student from Zimbabwe in the third year of my PhD. in Geography. I came to Canada to pursue an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science. Although I enjoyed my undergraduate journey, I always felt like I did not fit in with others in my program. I am not an outdoor person, so I often struggled during field trips, whilst my peers were delighted that they did not have to spend all their time indoors! So, after reflecting on my undergraduate experience, and equipped with a deep fascination and sense of responsibility for our Earth, I applied for an MSc. in Geography working in the Climate Research Lab - this is where I fell in love with climate modelling. I am now pursuing my third degree in the same research lab and I have no regrets!

Why did you choose to come to SFU?

My supervisor played a major role in my decision to continue at SFU. Her vast experience in the field of climate science and her detail-oriented yet motivating approach to supervision and mentorship made me stay. I also value the high quality of academic literature that comes out of her research lab, and appreciate the warmth and companionship of the lab members.

How would you describe your research or your program to a family member?

Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations are increasing at unprecedented rates, warming our Earth and making our climate more extreme. Emissions scenarios - proposed future trajectories of CO2 concentration that are consistent with our climate targets - include the use of technologies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and bury it deep underground. These emissions scenarios are designed assuming that if we emit 1 tonne of CO2 into the atmosphere, we can exactly offset that by removing 1 tonne of CO2, but this is likely not the case. My research, therefore, analyses how the climate system responds to equal amounts of emissions and removals of CO2, and quantifies the extent to which the land carbon responses to emissions and removals differ.

What three (3) keywords would you use to describe your research?

carbon cycle, carbon dioxide removal, earth system modelling

How have your courses, RA-ships, TA-ships, or non-academic school experiences contributed to your academic and/or professional development?

During my Master’s, I joined the departmental EDI Committee as a graduate representative. I designed and sent out the first EDI survey to collect information on the graduate experience and provide recommendations. Within my research lab, I suggested a reading and facilitated a discussion on improving our understanding of discrimination in climate science, and designed a follow-up discussion, in which we used design thinking to brainstorm ways to make our lab more inclusive. At the university level, I joined the SFU Field Safety Advisory Committee as a graduate representative with the goal of expanding the notion of field safety to include psychological safety, i.e., doing everything in our power to protect minority groups from discrimination during field trips. All these experiences gave me extensive experience with public speaking, facilitation, and data analysis; all key skills I use in my climate modelling degree.

Have you been the recipient of any major or donor-funded awards? If so, please tell us which ones and a little about how the awards have impacted your studies and/or research

I was awarded the NSERC Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, and this award has allowed to me to focus on moving forward with research and teaching, without concerns about financial hardship.


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