Elise Legarth

Development of an improved methodology for estimating probable maximum precipitation and flood: Tested and validated in British Columbia watersheds.
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

Improving our ability to understand the physical phenomena of the world in which we live and being able to use my abilities to make a contribution to society inspired me to be a graduate student. I have a drive for continual improvement, knowledge acquisition and making a difference to the world’s future. I love learning. I have always enjoyed both school and university study and solving challenging academic problems. Following retiring from elite sport, I found myself in need of a new challenge. It was while working as a consultant hydrologist that I recognised how the limitations in atmospheric forecasting translate into errors in real world hydrological applications and the importance of weather prediction in rainfall-run off modelling. In order to develop solutions to adapt to climate change, an understanding of the interaction of the multifaceted nature of meteorological and hydrological processes over different spatial and temporal scales is key, yet remains under researched. This realisation had a pivotal role in my decision to undertake doctoral research. I felt that a PhD degree would provide me with the academic challenge I was looking for, allow me to dive deeper into these questions and problems, improve my technical capabilities and give me the opportunity to learn from established experts.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

Choosing a university that wasn’t in my home country was a key priority for me as I wanted to explore other perspectives, and gain knowledge in techniques and models not regularly used in New Zealand. I’m so pleased I made this decision, as already I have learnt many things which will shape and inform my practise in future. UBC is a leader in investigating our earth and atmosphere. With its world-class professors, students, and research facilities, UBC finds solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. This combined with the financial support offered, meant that UBC was one of my top choices to pursue graduate study at. The first time I met my research team via Zoom, I was thrilled to be greeted by an incredibly knowledgeable and supportive advisor, a stimulating research environment and a cohort of other students all looking to make their mark through rigorous academic research.

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

I was particularly interested in joining the Weather Forecasting Research Team at UBC (https://wfrt.eoas.ubc.ca/) due their focus on clean energy and weather hazards, and the very wide range of proven outputs and exciting research. Not only is the research that WRFT conducts interesting, but the world class computing facilities including a dedicated 552-core linux cluster and 1024 cores on Google cloud, made it an attractive option. The WRFT focuses on making high-resolution, real-time daily, operational ensemble numerical weather forecasts (NWP) for a wide range of agencies and clients. The ties with industry and real-world application of research in the team stood out. The international nature of our research team and the vast knowledge and experiences means I have been given the best possible environment to expand my atmospheric science expertise.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

I did not expect the incredible support and encouragement provided by the EOAS and UBC community. The opportunities for collaboration and organised social activities with other graduate students in the department has been huge, not only from a personal viewpoint enabling me to develop friendships as I moved here, but also professionally. There is always someone facing a similar challenge or to learn and share ideas with. Many times, someone studying geophysics, oceanography or glaciology will mention something that will spur an idea for my own research. These professional and personal relationships have been one of the most valuable parts of my first year as a PhD student. There is a wide variety of seminars and workshops that help to broaden our knowledge in other areas; from research ethics to wildlife safety to equity, diversity and inclusion to teaching methods, the list goes on. The seminars have definitely helped me become a better all-round person and student. I should also mention the amazing outdoors Vancouver has on its doorstep. This year I have learnt to ski and sail, camped in the snow for the first time as well as many other things. There are few places in the world with such accessibility to both the ocean and mountains.

UBC is a leader in investigating our earth and atmosphere. With its world-class professors, students, and research facilities, UBC finds solutions to our greatest environmental challenges.
What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?

The world is constantly changing, we only need to look at the past three years to realise how difficult it is to predict the future and how quickly things can change. I think the biggest challenge in my future career will be to keep pace with these changes. My goal is to use my research to help solve societies biggest problems, but this is difficult when academic research inherently takes a long time and the goal posts keep shifting. There are so many questions and discoveries in the world that are yet to be found and determining what is most important to focus on will always be difficult. Lastly, often to make change research needs to be adopted, or included into policy, ensuring this occurs will be a significant challenge.

How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?

UBC creates an environment that encourages innovative research. We are encouraged to push boundaries and test new ideas which creates adaptivity. While the vision of the overall direction and purpose of your research remains the same it is encouraged to try, test, maybe fail and try again. This mindset will definitely help me adapt to the world’s future challenges. Additionally, I am always being encouraged to move outside of my comfort zone and to be well-versed in a variety of research skills. UBC also offers many opportunities to collaborate with a range of people, from international professors to industry representatives and also encourages the sharing of research in news articles or at conferences. The connections I am making and skills I am learning around the dissemination of my research will be key to overcoming the challenge of my research findings being adopted.

What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

Courage & passion, effort & excellence, teamwork & dedication, are the qualities that I bring with me from my time in elite sport and these same qualities are integral to succeeding in academia. Training approximately 28 hours a week and studying fulltime instilled in me a determination to strive for excellence in every aspect of my life and the belief that self-improvement and learning does not stop when the workday is over. While a 500m kayak race that takes a little under two minutes is starkly different to academic research, they are so similar in many other ways, they both require large amounts of planning and preparation, discipline and hard work, the ability to think outside the box when challenges occur, and the reciprocal reliance on your team. Elite sport threw me many many challenges but it also developed my sense of perseverance which I know will help me when faced with setbacks to successfully complete graduate study. My previous professional experience has also enabled me to think about my doctoral research not only in theoretical terms, but also what the implications for industry might be. It has allowed me to develop my research questions with a practical real-world application in mind and helped me to identify where research was needed. My professional experience also helped me to develop many technical and project management skills that are proving to be useful during my doctoral research.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

For all the international students, as challenging as it is at times to leave your home country and family and move to a place where they drive on the opposite side of the road, the food tastes different, and no one can understand your accent or the many colloquialisms you say, do it, you won’t regret it! Not only in academia but in day-to-day life I have been exposed to so many different perspectives, different ways of thinking and doing things. It has really opened my eyes to a different way of living and it has made me challenge many of my beliefs. Think about graduate school as an opportunity to pursue interests you have and seize every chance to learn something new. It is the best place to satisfy your curiosity without any limitations. Have a willingness to be open to new ideas and constantly seek to challenge your own assumptions. Don't be afraid to say “I don’t know”. Knowing where your knowledge ends is a key part of figuring out how to ask new questions. Don’t be afraid to be ‘different’. Diversity brings breadth of perspective and greater opportunities for innovation. Academia needs all this diversity to grow and make positive impacts in the world.


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