Krysten Rutherford

PhD Candidate, Oceanography
Dalhousie University
Krysten Rutherford
Education Pathway

Krysten Rutherford is a PhD Candidate of Oceanography at Dalhousie University.

About me

I was born/grew up in: Belleville, ON

I now live in: Halifax, NS

I completed my training/education at:  BSc, Chemical Engineering, Queen's University;  Oceanography, Dalhousie University (PhD in progress)

What I do at work

I am currently still a student finishing up my PhD in Oceanography. My research work uses a numerical model of northwest North Atlantic (i.e. the ocean just off of Eastern Canada). A numerical model is a simulation of the real ocean. It is kind of like a video game, and is based on mathematical equations.

We can use these numerical models to better understand different aspects of the ocean. This includes everything related to the chemistry, biology and physics of the ocean. My work focuses on using our model to understand the chemistry of the ocean off Eastern Canada.  I am researching how increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will affect the ocean. Since this work is involves many different subject areas, I use quite a lot of different STEM skills and knowledge. This includes a lot programming, mathematics, chemistry, physics and biology. I often have to problem solve on a daily basis, trying to figure out why I am getting a certain result from my model or why my code isn't running properly.

I really appreciate my undergraduate degree in engineering, which to most seems quite unrelated to my current work. This degree helped me learn how to prioritize tasks and take apart a problem into smaller pieces. It also gave me a strong base in many different types of STEM skills. I work as part of a larger lab group, with many of us working on the same model. There is often lots of opportunity for collaboration with different people.

My career path is

When I was in high school, I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew I cared a lot about the environment but I had no idea what kind of careers you could have in the environmental sector. I ended up deciding to take engineering for my undergraduate degree. I did this because I knew engineering provided a strong base in many different sciences and would keep a lot of doors open for me. However, after graduating from Engineering Chemistry, I saw a lot of my peers going to work in the oil fields or in pharmaceuticals. Neither of these two sectors were of interest to me.

After taking some time off to figure out my next step, I came across the work that my current supervisor does (i.e. using numerical models to study the ocean). This really interested me for two reasons. The first was that I knew numerical models are really cool ways of better understanding an environmental feature. Second, numerical models are great tools used to understand the effects of climate change, which was something I'd been passionate about for many years. I sent her an email to start a masters with her, and just continued on to do my PhD.

This was not a very direct path, but I am very happy to be where I am now. Even when I look back, I see how if I had made slightly different decisions at any point, I likely would have still ended up exactly where I am today. I hope this highlights that there is never only one path to a final career destination. It's also important to be open to opportunities as they arise.

I am motivated by

The biggest motivation for me in my career is better understanding how climate change is affecting our oceans. It is interesting to work on a topic that is relevant and important to literally the entire world! On a smaller scale, I really enjoy solving puzzles. Working with numerical models and code often comes down to problem solving and figuring out a big puzzle. This type of work really stimulates my puzzle-loving mind. I also really enjoy that I get the opportunity to combine my more artistic side with my more scientific and logical side through science communication. Mainly, I get to use my artistic abilities to create presentations and graphics that clearly explain a scientific message.

How I affect people’s lives

My career involves better understanding the likely effects of climate change, which is an issue that affects many people's lives. For me, it's one of the biggest issues facing our generation and generations to come. Being able to work with numerical models to understand the effects of climate change is truly rewarding and of the utmost importance.

Outside of work I

I have many hobbies outside of work and think that it's very important to have a good work-life balance. I volunteer every week serving meals to homeless, hungry and hurting individuals within the Halifax community and also tutor kids once a week. I am very active, practicing in yoga, running and rowing. I also have many artistic hobbies. These include sewing my own clothes, acrylic painting and knitting.

My advice to others

First, take a wide range of classes and take all of your high school maths and sciences. Even if you don't think you'll need them right after high school, it's easier to have these courses in case you decide to take a different path later in life.

Second, don't stress too much about having everything figured out. There are often many paths to the same destination, particularly in oceanography, which is very interdisciplinary.

Third, have fun! Enjoy the process and not just the destination. When I look back over the last 10 years (i.e. since I left high school), I often did not necessarily know what my next step would be or where I'd end up, but I made the decision that was right at that time and just tried to enjoy the places it took me.

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Art
  • Foreign languages
  • Math
  • Computer Science
  • Music
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Liked helping people
  • Enjoyed working with my hands
  • Was motivated by success
  • Liked being given free range to explore my ideas
  • Engaged in volunteer activities
  • Liked reading
  • Was really creative
  • Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades
  • Wasn't sure what I wanted to do
  • Liked to take things apart to see how they worked

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