Student stories

Earth Sciences student develops valuable tools for collecting oceanic data on Government co-op work terms

Hana Hourston

Government of Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Hana Hourston is a fourth-year student majoring in mathematics and minoring in Earth Sciences. She completed a co-op work term with the Government of Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Learn about her experience below.

Why did you choose UVic, your program and co-op?

Going into university, I didn’t have a solid idea of what I wanted to major in, but I knew I wanted to do something that was related to the ocean. I’d heard good things about UVic’s school of Earth and Ocean Sciences (SEOS) and UVic’s co-op program from friends and family, and I ended up not being disappointed! UVic SEOS offers a diverse range of interesting courses, and the co-op program has provided valuable work experience and networking opportunities to help set me up for life after graduation.

What Government department did you work with?

I worked with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) at the Institute of Ocean Sciences (IOS) on my previous work term.

What responsibilities did you have in your position?

This position offered me the opportunity to learn more about physical oceanography and to develop my skills in the R code, which is a programming language for statistical graphing and computing, primarily used by data statisticians and scientists. I spent the term working with the IOS Data Product Team on an R package for processing raw data from Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ADCPs). ADCPs are oceanographic instruments that use sound to measure ocean current speed and direction. They emit pings of sound that reflect off particles in the water and use the return speed of the reflected pings to calculate ocean current velocities. ADCPs can also measure temperature, sound speed, and pressure in the water, by other means. All such observations contribute to our understanding of the ocean, including the ocean’s role in controlling the climate. There are two types of ADCPs: ship-mounted and moored. Ship-mounted varieties are installed on the bottom of ships and take measurements from there, while moored ADCPs are anchored at a chosen depth in the water where they can be left to take measurements over several months. I was only working with moored ADCP data on my co-op term. I adapted the package to fit existing data processing standards at IOS and then used it to process all of the 20 years’ worth of raw ADCP data at IOS. In doing so, I was helping set specific standards for future processing of all ADCP data collected by IOS. 

What impact did you have in your position?

One of my favourite parts of coop was knowing that my work was meaningful. The package I helped develop would go on to help more scientists obtain accessible, standardized data beyond the end of my work term.

What have you learned from your work term?

The work term exposed me to skills beyond what I learned in the classroom. I learned how to code in R, package development and maintenance. In government, we generally have to work with folks from the east coast, where there is a three-hour time difference. This helped me hone my communication skills as I had to be in communication with the Data Product Team, corresponding with the developers of the R package from members of the team in Nova Scotia.

What are your future career plans and how has coop helped guide you in this direction?

I originally started as a combined Earth and Ocean Sciences and Physical Geography major when I entered the co-op program. After my work term with DFO, I was more interested in working in data analysis, and this led me to switch to a Mathematics major. After graduation, I plan to pursue a career related to data analysis or numerical modeling. In pursuing a major and minor, I have opportunities in both fields and look forward to seeing where my future will take me! 



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