the Seeds of Science

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How to write a thesis in the Arctic Circle

The ice road to Aklavik with the Richardson Mts in the background.

Hiyo the Seeds of Sciencers,

Ever feel the need to lock yourself away to finish writing a paper? Or that Toronto with all its distractions has gradually become the crutch that keeps you from completing that last chapter of your thesis (or second to last [or third])? Or that the lengthening daylight hours peeking into the grad office will inevitably force you to abandon typing and bring you out to life’s truly greatest joy which is of course patio living in all its delicate and varied forms, none of which include a laptop or pipette? I have. And perhaps I’ve overreacted. I have moved to the arctic. So how does one move north to finish their thesis?

Of course, I haven’t finished it yet, so this might take a few posts.

First, I needed to get here. “Here” in my case is Inuvik, Northwest Territories, on the edge of the Mackenzie River Delta, that’s  68.3617°N, 133.7306°W for fellow geospatial nerds. In fact, it’s cheaper to fly almost anywhere else in the world (by CAD$1000 ), so I drove. I cut through the States, all the way to Montana, then north to Edmonton, through BC into the Yukon to Whitehorse, and then along the most northern highway in Canada–the Dempster–into Inuvik. It was a truly beautiful drive and the only advice I can give is to avoid North Dakota, where I hit ice and snow storms conditions that I have yet to see up here. The Dempster takes you over two smooth mountain ranges before dropping you into the vast Taiga lowlands of the Mackenzie River valley. It’s unparalleled, in my opinion–you can get a little taste of it by checking out some footage of my trip (although be warned its a little bumpy, a little trippy and set to my band’s music) at

The Blueberry Patch" view outside my office window
The Blueberry Patch” view outside my office window

Once here you have to get used to the realities of living up in the AC (arctic circle, not air conditioner). My wife, who has a 2-year contract up here, flew up a month before me and found us a house to live in. The benefits of our house include: 8 foot stilts in case of flooding (or snow drifts); a porch that serves as a fantastic chest freezer; three broken snowmobiles in the yard if we need parts; and an office to work from with a view of the “blueberry patch” (a defunct bright blue housing complex that is now boarded up with black cloth making it look more like an ambitious art piece than urban decay). The drawbacks of our house include: heating is more expensive than rent and the rent is more expensive than in Toronto; the furnace lives among us and creates a noise-screen that further isolates me in  my office; and our landlords left a big screen TV which could offer its own set of distractions as Jennie and I haven’t owned a television in years and may be powerless to resist its siren song. Food is on average 1.8x the price south of here, but it forces us to be frugal, make our own luxury items including yoghurt, bread and sprouts, and take advantage of local foods like arctic char (delicious), muskox (amazing) and reindeer (can’t wait). Lastly, stylish clothing is not a concern as my set of winter jackets is all the outside world sees of me. Actually, I was surprised that I need a “set” of winter jackets, but you basically need a new jacket for every 10 degree range so you don’t freeze or sweat too much: -40 to -30 (Canada Goose down), -30 to -20 (those ridiculously puffy MEC down jackets), -20 to -10 (a ski jacket so you can be active), and -10 to 0 (what I wore in Toronto).

What I miss: hip bars, nice patios, music festivals on the island, movie theatres and a department filled with people who love to have fun. What I’d miss if I came back: wilderness skiing only two blocks away, ice roads on the Mackenzie River (it is like a giant game of MarioKart), the Gwich’in and Inuvialuit town of Aklavik jamboree, which included traditional games such as chipping through 7 feet of ice to bring up water to boil over a hastily made fire. Will I get any writing done? So far so good. Its pretty light out until 10:30 pm so you can pack a lot of distractions in. Ha ha, eeesh…. Peter and Brian? You reading this? Ahem.

Until next time! Hit some patios for me…



Dak is a Ecology and Evolutionary Biology graduate student with Dr(s) Peter Abrams and Brian Shuter. He studies fish and fisheries, and is interested in spatial aspects of predator-prey relationships between both fish and their prey, and anglers and their fish.


This entry was posted on June 16, 2013 by in Diaries and tagged , , .