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From small towns and crustaceans to Scandinavia and Reindeer: One graduate student’s journey

by Jeffrey

question I have often asked myself over the last year and half of
graduate school is “how did I get here?” Really though! I look back
on my undergraduate career and I’m still not entirely sure how I
ended up going from being that stress riddled pre-med student to
discovering my love of ecology. When I first applied to the MSc in
Biology program at Concordia University, I was just a small-town kid
from the middle of nowhere New Brunswick, filled with anxiety but
also excitement at the potential of working with large mammals.
Before this all I ever worked with were invertebrates and fish –
now reindeer in Finland!? Will I be good enough (imposter syndrome is
very real, folks)? Am I actually prepared to do research for the next
two years? How did I make this academic segue way? These are all
questions I asked myself as my supervisor, lab mate and I pulled up
to the Kutuharju Reindeer Research Station, the place I called home
for 2 months over the last 2 years.


house we stayed in at the Kutuharju Reindeer Research Station in
Kaamanen Finland. Fun fact: It came fully equipped with a functioning
sauna inside!


shot of one of the many beautiful lakes along our study area.


lovely common cotton grass in one of our study enclosures.

can’t say that these feelings of questioning whether I’m good
enough for graduate school truly went away but have been plenty of
moments where I have been reminded that for as many anxiety inducing
grant proposals, fieldwork disasters or presentations, I truly love
being surrounded by nature and other people that both appreciate its
beauty and value its importance. One of the strongest memories I have
of being reminded of this was during my last field season in 2017,
where over the course of a few days I saw something truly beautiful
happen – a mother and her calf were reunited. So, a little context,
for the purpose of our experiment we shuffle our experimental males
(either 1.5 or 2.5 years old) and females (mixed age groups) into two
different enclosures for a 5 day observation period. In this set up
we do not include calves since we are only interested in mature
individuals but despite our best efforts, one determined calf, over
the course of a day and a half made its way back to its mother via
passing through three different sets of fencing. Was I frustrated?
Sure! However, at the same time, how could one not be amazed by this?
We witnessed first-hand the strength of a mother-calf bond and it
left me speechless.


female reindeer watching over her recently reunited calf.


persistent calf that traveled through three sets of fencing to be
reunited with its mother.

to the funding I received via the QCBS Student Excellence Award, I’ve
had the amazing opportunity to observe how competition intensity and
male mating tactics differ for male reindeer of different ages under
either a balanced or female biased operational sex ratio (OSR) in a
semi natural habitat. I’ve also gained many invaluable field
ecology techniques like behavioural sampling, constructing an
ethogram, telemetry and yes even how to build the perfect fire!


of my first successful fires (I’ll never admit just how many
attempts this took) while in the field! These were perfect for
roasting apples or toasting some rye bread!

also been extremely fortunate to work with many great biologists,
local Sami herders and colleagues that have offered great insight to
the subject matter of my thesis project and have been a strong
support system through this entire graduate journey.


scientists have to drop a quick selfie after hiking through the
Finnish Laplands for the famous Sinovi Green Cabin! (Myself, Amelie
Paoli and Dr. Robert Weladji).


night with my lab mates at a Korean BBQ restaurant in Montreal!

future graduate students:
Take time to be kind to yourself and make the most out of your
graduate experience. It can be a roller-coaster but as long as you
stay true to yourself, I promise it is worth it!

Driscoll is a MSc in Biology student, supervised by Dr. Robert
Weladji at Concordia University in Montreal. His thesis project is
investigating  the relationship between operational sex ratio (OSR)
and the intensity of competition in 1.5 and 2.5 year old male
reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) during the breeding season. You can find
out more information on his project and those of his colleagues at:

Post date: April 11, 2018


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