Category Archives: graduate students

Heather Cray, Ph.D. candidate

Greetings and salutations! My name is Heather Cray and I have the great fortune to be a PhD candidate supervised by Dr. Stephen Murphy in the Department of Environment and Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo. As an ecologist (and especially as a restoration ecologist), my job is to resolutely ignore traditional boundaries between the sciences in a relentless pursuit to understand connections. In less grandiose terms, I couldn’t chose between fields like botany and soil science, reasoned that they are both inextricably connected anyway, and decided to do all the things.

My main research focus is restoration ecology, and tallgrass prairie is the primary ecosystem of my PhD dissertation. The most endangered ecosystem in North America, less than 1% of tallgrass prairie remains in Canada, mostly located in small patches across Southern Ontario. Conservation alone is not enough at this stage – without active restoration, this pollinator-supporting ecosystem will disappear. The field research component of my dissertation speaks directly to practitioner concerns, and will support our research partners, Ontario Parks, Conservation Halton, MTO, MNRF, private land owners, and others in their restoration goals.

My main research interests are:

  • Testing techniques for restoration: what are the benefits and trade-offs and how can we optimize the process?
  • Novel Ecosystems and the perception of ‘natural’ vs ‘human’ systems
  • The role of invasive species and soil microbial community in the restoration process.
  • The effect of prairie restoration on pollinator communities: if we build it, will they come?
  • Assessing the current state of restoration: what is being done and by whom?

My academic background is Geography, specifically biogeomorphology looking at succession patterns following thermokarst in the Canadian Arctic. In addition to my main plant and soil foci, I have had the opportunity to contribute to the Lake Ontario Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program through OFAH and MNR in Ontario and to bat conservation with El Parque Natural Metropolitano in Panama. In deciding the course for my PhD research, I looked to my childhood – Holland Landing Prairie, one of my field sites in partnership with Ontario Parks, is down the street from where I grew up.

Speaking of family, I have three non-photosynthesizing dependents in my life, all of whom are furry. Bruce and Sarah cause their own flavor of trouble indoors and are SPCA kitties, Paul is in a class all of his own, as you might expect from a blue-eyed Paint.

Sarah and Bruce

Sarah and Bruce



When I am not in the field or working away in the lab doing plant ID or data/soil/photo processing, I can usually be found at the barn volunteering. If I am forced to be indoors by way of injury or inclement weather, I split my time between crocheting small creatures, playing the flute, tin whistle, or harp (passably, poorly but happily, poorly but exuberantly), playing board games, doing puzzles, watching Doctor Who and reading.

Count on me for macro photos of insects and plants, field updates, and wearing sunglasses in 95% of all photos.

Lauren King, Ph.D. Candidate

Who is Lauren King? I am a daughter, sister, aunt, guardian, learner, researcher, feminist, and environmentalist for starters. I’m also a PhD candidate in the Department of Environment and Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo. I have the privilege of working with Dr. Stephen Murphy, a brilliant and eccentric ecologist (I resemble those remarks – SDM), and Dr. Bryan Grimwood, an equally brilliant and thoughtful social scientist. Working with both a natural and social scientist allows me to better understand the complex socio-ecological systems that I am researching. Importantly, I am also honoured to be working with the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation . This is a strong and vibrant Denesoline community located on the east arm of Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories.

My research interests are:

  • The establishment, planning, and management of parks and protected areas (PPAs)
  • The negotiation and operation of co-management arrangements for PPAs
  • The application of power theory to the study of co-management
  • The rights, roles, and responsibilities of Indigenous peoples in PPAs governance and environmental governance, more broadly.

I came by my research honestly. When I entered the Master’s in Environmental Studies program at York University in 2010 my academic advisor and I were discussing my research interests and he asked me what I loved? I responded by saying, I love being in nature, paddling my canoe. He proceeded to ask me, why I wasn’t studying something I loved? After that conversation, I decided to study parks and protected areas governance and I’ve never looked back.

My deep respect and appreciation for the environment began as a child along the canoe routes of Ontario and later as a guide, and has evolved through my research and experiences in academia and life experiences. I start each day with a walk through High Park’s ravines with my dog, Darwin, and continue to take every opportunity I can get to explore parks or protected areas (and other natural places), preferably by canoe.


Paddling the Deh Cho (Mackenzie) River from Fort Providence to Inuvik in 2014 (1,500kms!!!)

My PhD research is focused on the negotiation of two co-governance agreements between the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation, Parks Canada, and the Government of the Northwest Territories for the creation of Thaidene Nene national park reserve and territorial park. The negotiation processes and outcomes will be examined through the lens of power in order to uncover the power dynamics between and among the actors and structures. Following community-based participatory research principles, this research is designed to benefit the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation, and possibly assist other communities negotiating co-management regimes in areas where Indigenous peoples rights and title remain unresolved. The research findings should also result in important theoretical, conceptual, and methodological contributions to knowledge. Specifically, the application of social power theories to the study of co-management; a central theme in co-management that remains to be thoroughly and systematically examined, and an exploration of the effects that power has on the negotiation phase of co-management; a phase that has been largely ignored by the co-management body of literature. Finally, this research should provide useful insights into the opportunities and challenges of a non-Indigenous, graduate student engaging in community-based participatory research.

I have spent nine years studying different ways to protect, respect, and responsible use the environment and look forward to spending a life-time doing so.

If you would like to connect with me, my email address is

Katie Kish, Ph.D. candidate


Hello! I am Katie Kish. First and foremost I am a wifey, sister, daughter, friend, and am committed to community. Thankfully, my position as a PhD student in the Department of Environment and Resource Studies allows for all of that to be nourished alongside my research. No small part of this is from the encouragement and support of my two supervisors, Dr. Smurph and Dr. Steve Quilley.

Together, our collective (but very different) passions and interests are forging many interesting research projects. Some of these projects include the Experiential Learning Group, and a faculty wide festival (- ENVigorate), that was a huge success in bringing people across the faculty together. We are also working on Open Source Ecology UW, a first year Big History course, and a tacit knowledge and hands-on curriculum (with Lewis Dartnell, author of The Knowledge).

My primary research focuses on the Metcalf Foundation and SSHRC funded reMaker Society – a part of my overall Environmental Politics at the Margins project – and a larger group project on the ‘third basin’ of attraction

Most of this work is done in collaboration with the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (where I am the PhD research fellow) and the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation.

My background is in environmental science (geomorphology – UVic), ecological economics, and systems approaches to health (YorkU). Having started in the hard sciences, I have since come to realize I am definitely a big-picture/interdisciplinary thinker (with a serious love-fest with tedious event management and paperwork…). Some of my (very broad) research interests include:

  • Resilience studies and global ‘opportunity in a post-release state’ (aka: what happens after a collapse of society… without saying ‘collapse’)
  • Big History – the civilizing process and growth of complexity over the past 6 billion years and what these both might look like into the next 6 billion years (note: thinking in these time scales makes getting a puppy seem like a very good idea)
  • Big History as an origin myth for ontological security
  • The role of open source and micro technology, innovation, and political-philosophy as a new approach to a globally connected commons-based distributed political economy
  • Terror management, meaning frameworks, and community development for long-term behavioural change

My primary work centers on the idea that ‘we’ (global society) have passed environmental and social thresholds beyond what ‘sustainability’ plans promised to save us from. Because of this, any future socio-ecological world must include radical social transformation and innovation.

I am broadly interested in the roles to be played within a new future, as well as in the ways people find meaning and hope through newly defined political, economic and social systems. We are close to a tipping point, and on the other side of this tipping point, there is great possibility for creativity to emerge, prosper, and help shape a new future. There are a number of people already tapping into this creativity, within which lies solutions to our deepest problems. I am interested in learning more about these people and what their attitudes, perceptions, and socio-economic frameworks can tell us about larger environmental behavioural change.

This all rests on a caveat…to allow any of these solutions to take hold more broadly, we must be ready to challenge the status quo – to be a little uncomfortable and let go of our security blankets. It may be a long dark road ahead, but there are already people lighting lanterns along the way… I look forward to meeting them.

willowBeyond school… I recently got a puppy – her name is Zoe (props to all those who immediately got the Firefly reference), she is a lot of work, and I love her.

I am the newest of newbies on the guitar, crochet quite a lot, camp regularly, sing constantly and am dipping my toes into the maker world (mostly wood working). I’m currently working on a fairly epic crochet blanket, rag rug, abstract painting, reclaimed wood dining room table, pair of moccasins and a terrarium … if I ever finish one, it’ll be a really good piece of work and my house will be slightly less cluttered with glitter, glue, and sawdust. Thankfully, I have a patient, loving, and supportive husband.