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Career Profile

Sara Knox (she/her)

Assistant Professor (biometeorology)
University of British Columbia
Sara Knox headshot
Sara Knox headshot
Location Born
Location Now
Education Pathway

I study ways to restore and protect ecosystems to help fight climate change.

About me

I was born/grew up in: Montreal, Quebec

I now live in: Vancouver, British Columbia

I completed my training/education at:  I received a B.Sc. in Earth System Science from McGill University, a M.Sc. in Geography from Carleton University, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management from the University of California, Berkeley. After that I worked as a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey followed by a one-year postdoc at Stanford University.

What I do at work

I study how we can restore and protect ecosystems to help fight climate change. I also teach biometeorology. This is the study of how weather conditions affect living things. I also mentor undergraduate and graduate students. My job requires both STEM and non-STEM skills. I teach undergraduate and graduate students. I also carry out my own research, write grant applications, and present at conferences. In addition to this, I serve on university and department committees. Finally, I engage with policy makers and the public.

In my research we measure the exchange of greenhouse gases, water and energy between ecosystems and the atmosphere. This work requires some knowledge of chemistry, physics, and engineering. Once we’ve collected the data, we analyze it to uncover patterns and trends. This requires training in math and statistics. It also involves some computer programming.

We use several different sensors to collect data.  We use gas analyzers to measure concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane. Anemometers are used to measure wind speed and direction. We use other sensors that measures variables such as temperature, humidity, precipitation, and radiation. These sensors help us measure how much carbon an ecosystem is taking up or releasing. They also help us figure out the role of other variables.

I work with scientists from across the world. I really enjoying working with them to tackle important issues such as climate change. It is also a great opportunity to get to travel and be exposed to new and interesting thoughts and ideas. Being a professor and researcher also requires strong written and verbal communication skills. This is important for teaching and publishing our findings in peer-reviewed journals. It is also necessary when applying for grants. Good communication skills are also important for sharing our research with a broader audience through media interviews or written pieces.

My career path is

I always knew that I wanted to do something in the sciences. However, I wasn’t sure exactly which branch of science I wanted to take when I was in high school. I didn’t even know that what I currently study and teach (biometeorology), existed!

In university, I was drawn to environmental science. It combined my interests in science and the outdoors. During my undergraduate degree, I took a wide range of courses beyond the traditional science disciplines of math, chemistry, and physics. I also took courses in hydrology, atmospheric sciences, and ecology. I found these courses very interesting. These gave me undergraduate research opportunities that brought me to the subarctic where I studied peatlands (i.e., wetland areas that include bogs and fens). I also went to Peru, where I studied the impacts of climate change on glaciers. I really enjoyed those research opportunities, so I decided to do a Masters. Then I just kept going to do a PhD. I wasn’t planning to take the academic track. However, due to a series of unforeseen circumstances, I eventually ended up as an Assistant Professor at UBC.

I am motivated by

I really enjoy my job. I love that I always get to learn new things. I get to work with talented and interesting collaborators and students. I’m also working to tackle pressing societal issues such as climate change. I really enjoy teaching and mentoring students! It is one of the highlights of my work. Being a professor is quite demanding and usually requires more than a 40h work week. However, I like the flexibility that it offers. I get to decide what research I do and who I work with, and I have a flexible schedule.  Also, I get to work in interesting places. Another part of the job that makes it personally rewarding is working to make STEM a more inclusive environment. I think that increasing diversity in the sciences helps broaden our perspectives. This helps us do better research.

How I affect peoples’ lives

My work is directly related to tackling climate change. I find it so motivating! It helps me feel empowered when faced with such a huge issue. I also join forces with non-scientists to help inform new and emerging climate policy. Teaching is another aspect of my work which I think is highly valuable. I enjoy training the next generation of environmental scientists and policymakers.

Outside of work I

Outside of work I enjoy hiking, jogging, skiing, going to the beach with my little one. I also enjoy spending time with family and friends.

My advice to others

Don't let your fears hold you back, and don’t be afraid to try new challenges. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish if you are passionate and committed to it. Also, failure and bumps in the road are part of life and are often what make us stronger.

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Art
  • Geography
  • Math
  • Physical Education/Health
  • Science
  • Technology
  • Music
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Always wanted to be outside
  • Liked helping people
  • Organized activities for my friends
  • Played on a sports team
  • Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades
  • Wasn't sure what I wanted to do

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