Chris Derksen (he/his)
I was born/grew up in: Kitchener, Ontario
I now live in: Toronto, Ontario
I completed my training/education at: I have a Bachelor of Science (Geography), a Master’s of Science and a Ph.D. from the University of Waterloo.
What I do at work
I work with satellite datasets to track changes in snow and sea ice across Canada. This work involves the analysis of large amounts of data. Having good programming and scripting skills is very important. Nearly all my work is done as part of a team. We work collaboratively with colleagues across Canada and internationally. We have regular project meetings to coordinate our work. We write and publish scientific papers in academic journals based on the results of our work.
My favourite part of the job is getting into the field to make measurements to ‘ground truth’ the satellite data, and improve the algorithms we use to extract information from the raw measurements. This often involves work in the Arctic. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to work in parts of Canada that most people don’t get to see. Field work takes a lot of planning, coordination, and training. We use specialized field equipment to make very precise measurements of the snowpack. This includes such things as snow grain size and shape. We are trained in wilderness first aid and firearms safety.
When we return from the field, we then spend a lot of time preparing the data for analysis. We also support the scientific process by reviewing the papers and research proposals of other scientists. Nearly all scientific data is open access these days, and we try hard to make our code open as well. Properly and clearly documenting your work takes a lot of time. Every work day is a little bit different. This helps keep things interesting!
My career path is
I had a strong interest in working in the Arctic from when I was very young. As an undergraduate student in university, I had a professor who ran a field research program in the Canadian Arctic. I worked up the courage to approach him. This initial conversation led to me working with him for many years. After finishing my undergrad, he was my supervisor for my Masters and PhD degrees. I often look back on my initial conversation with him – it’s a great example of how a small decision or action can create entire pathways in life!
After I completed my PhD, I worked as a post-doctoral researcher at Environment Canada. Working as a post-doctoral researcher is a typical path into a research career. However, it is somewhat uncertain because post-docs are often temporary term positions. There were challenging aspects to life as a post-doc, but this path led directly into my career as a government scientist.
I am motivated by
Science is actually a competitive career. You are working to produce research results for the first time, knowing that other scientists are trying to answer the same questions. So the sense of discovery, and the desire to communicate new results, is very motivating. At the same time, I find my field to be very collaborative. Scientists are always sharing ideas, data, and opportunities. It is motivating to contribute to a dynamic research community. I’m also motivated to continue exploring the Arctic through field campaigns. Conditions can be challenging in the field. But field work is very rewarding, and it keeps you young!
How I affect peoples’ lives
We work to inform Canadians on how climate change is affecting our environment. This includes understanding changes to vital resources such as melt water from snow and glaciers. This information isth important for the health and well-being of communities and ecosystems. . There is increasing demand for climate change information from public agencies, private companies, and the public. This supports the importance of our work.
Outside of work I
I try to be an active person. I’m a runner and golfer, and enjoy camping trips.
My advice to others
A career in scientific research can be very rewarding. Find that topic which stokes your interests! Be self-motivated and well-organized. Always look for new ways to improve your technical skills. Finding a mentor or other colleagues in the field who can support you and provide advice is very helpful. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Physical Education/Health
- Enjoyed doing things on my own
- Always wanted to be outside
- Organized activities for my friends
- Played on a sports team
- Was motivated by success
- Liked reading
- Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades