Deepa Pureswaran grew up in southern India where the diversity of plants and animals inspired her to obtain an undergraduate degree in Zoology. Her quest for graduate studies in North America fortuitously brought her to Dr. John Borden’s lab at Simon Fraser University where she completed her Masters and PhD on the communication ecology of tree-killing bark beetles. She then pursued an NSERC postdoctoral fellowship at Dartmouth College followed by another fellowship at the US Forest Service in Michigan. She was hired by the Canadian Forest Service to study the ecology and management of forest insect outbreaks. Deepa’s trans-disciplinary research program examines the causes and consequences of native and exotic forest insect disturbance in the context of a changing climate and global trade. She is a PI or co-PI on collaborative research grants totaling $ 3 million, including an NSERC Discovery Grant. She was awarded an NSERC Early Career Researcher Award in 2011. Deepa is an adjunct professor at the University of New Brunswick, Université du Quebec à Montreal and Université Laval. Combining the strong infra-structure of government labs and intellectual freedom of universities, she co-supervises and advises 12 graduate students. She believes that training students to be innovative and critical thinkers is crucial to shaping entomological research in Canada. Deepa works in Quebec City where she now lives with her husband.
Why did you choose to go to SFU?
After obtaining my BSc in India, I was looking for graduate opportunities in North America. This was before we had internet access in India, so I was randomly sending out 50 hand-written letters to ecology professors from university directories at the library asking if they were taking students. I just happened to write to professors at SFU in alphabetical order. I was getting tired and finally stopped at the letter D. Luckily, Dr. John Borden, who received one of my letters took me on for both graduate degrees, sight unseen, because I had “actually worked with turkeys on purpose for an undergraduate project, and my letter had no grammatical errors”. It turned out that Dr. Borden was one of the pioneering Canadian researchers in bark beetle ecology, although I had no idea at the time. I guess we both took a risk, but it worked out!
Where did you spend the most amount of time on campus?
I lived in Hamilton Hall for the first two years of graduate school. I spent most of my time in the lab and at the library. I liked hanging out in the AQ on sunny days.
What is your favourite memory from your time at SFU?
I loved walking to campus on the Burnaby Mountain trail on sunny spring mornings. It was so beautiful.
Who was your favourite SFU professor and why?
I learnt a lot from my graduate supervisor, Dr. John Borden. He has a mischievous sense of humour and we got along famously. He loved what he did, was passionate about his science and he was usually on top of things. He had 12 students the year I joined his lab and he always knew what everyone was up to. He was generous with his time, was very organized and had a tidy office! He was able to see the best in people.
How has your SFU degree impacted your career?
My degrees from SFU are the reason for my career. My studies on bark beetle ecology took me to remote and beautiful places and continue to do so. I did my graduate work during the mountain pine beetle outbreak in BC. It helped me understand the ecology of insect outbreaks in general and its impacts on the ecosystem. Since then, my expertise has been sought to study outbreaks of other forest insects in North America, and more recently, in Europe. The six years I spent at SFU have shaped my career and brought me where I am today.
What is your favourite SFU snow story?
I grew up in the tropics and had no snow experience until I came to SFU. My first winter took me by surprise. We had a snow storm when I lived in Hamilton Hall and I was trying to leave the building to go out for Christmas. The door was frozen shut. I pushed it open with all my might. There was four feet of snow outside. I tried to walk on it and sank to my hips. I discovered the physical properties of snow…
If you could give advice to students today, what would you tell them?
These are the words of a young writer who came to Quebec City recently. It made a lot of sense. Do what you love, finish what you start and be nice to people.
What is the one thing about SFU that must not change?
The spirit of community that is offered to international students is something to be cherished and kept up. Many of these students leave their friends and families far away and cannot return home frequently. Being part of a university community is integral to their education at SFU.