Oceanography propels grad around the globe


- Clare Walton

Fitz-Gerald. Credit: Supplied.

Schulich scholar and honours earth and ocean sciences graduate Wylee Fitz-Gerald has spent the last four years following a passion for oceanography. Whether it’s finding mentors in labs on campus or conducting field work in the Arctic, Fitz-Gerald has always looked for ways to broaden her skills through a combination of a strong network and hands-on learning experiences.

“Throughout my undergraduate studies I have taken every opportunity to explore the field of oceanography, focusing my courses on oceanographic studies and completing an honours project in chemical oceanography,” says Fitz-Gerald. “These opportunities have allowed me to be fortunate enough to gain the connections and experience needed to pursue my passion while exploring the world.”

This past summer, Fitz-Gerald was able to follow her calling to the Arctic waters of the Bering and Beaufort seas where her hard work and strong relationships with faculty and staff in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences had her spending three weeks aboard the Canadian Coast Guard vessel CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier, collecting water samples to study radioactive isotopes from the March 2011 tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Strong mentors key to success

A beacon of academic excellence, Fitz-Gerald has maintained a prestigious Schulich Leader Scholarship—one of 50 scholarships awarded annually to exceptional young leaders in STEM fields—and has also won top prizes within the faculty. This commitment can be seen even in her final year of study when she won the first place prize from the Faculty of Science for her honours research project analyzing the dynamics of dissolved oxygen in the Labrador Sea, based on data collected from robotic profiling floats.

Despite being a gifted student, studying oceanography didn’t come easy at first to Fitz-Gerald. She began her oceanographic studies by skipping ahead to third year courses after just one year at university. Although a challenge, she was determined to succeed, and credits having strong influences and mentors within her department who could play an instrumental role in her success as being key to helping her meet and exceed her academic goals.

When I first started taking oceanographic courses, I was not prepared for the challenges that lay ahead. Having a champion like my senior lab instructor Sarah Thornton made a world of difference. Sarah took me under her wing and provided me with the tutoring and guidance I needed to be successful both in the lab and out in the field.
Schulich scholar and honours earth and ocean sciences graduate Wylee Fitz-Gerald

Having a passion for what you do is key to scientific success, according to Fitz-Gerald, who believes passion is contagious and can inspire others to explore your chosen field. In fact, she was attracted to the world of oceanographic research in part because of the passion of Earth and Ocean Sciences chemical oceanographer Roberta Hamme.

“Roberta’s passion for her subject matter makes her a magnetic force in the field of oceanography and working with her is what has helped me to fall in love with the field,” says Fitz-Gerald, who proudly credits Hamme as a key mentor and major influence in her academic career thus far.

By boldly embracing the challenges that have come her way throughout her undergraduate degree, Fitz-Gerald has been able to discover a research passion and grow her academic network. As she moves onto the next stage of her life after undergraduate studies, she is looking towards pursuing a master’s degree to continue to live with her research.


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Keywords: convocation, graduate, graduation, oceanography

Publication: The Ring

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