Celebrating the graduates of Fall 2021: Elly Knight

Meet some of the amazing members of the graduating class of Fall 2021 from the Faculty of Science.

Andrew Lyle - 15 November 2021

Meet Elly Knight, member of the class of Fall 2021 graduating with PhD in ecology from the Department of Biological Sciences.

Meet Elly Knight, member of the class of Fall 2021 graduating with PhD in ecology from the Department of Biological Sciences. Here, Knight fits a nocturnal bird with a tiny GPS-transmitting backpack before releasing it—so scientists can track the migratory patterns of the species.

This year, the University of Alberta is celebrating the achievements of our graduates with a virtual convocation ceremony on November 19. As we acknowledge the achievements of our graduating class, we’re sharing just a few of the amazing stories of our graduates.

This week, Elly Knight graduates with PhD in ecology from the Department of Biological Sciences. Hear from her on the support she received during her studies, advice for fellow graduate students, and reflections on her field research that took her to Florida, Arizona, and under the stars and aurora borealis in northern Alberta.

Congratulations, Elly! 

What led you to pick the University of Alberta for your studies?

Serendipity brought me to the University of Alberta. My blended family is rooted here in Edmonton, but I wasn't interested in other schools anyway. When I decided I wanted to return to school for a PhD, I immediately approached Dr. Erin Bayne in the Department of Biological Sciences, whom I knew of and respected. As Dr. Bayne put it, my interests in monitoring nocturnal birds with sound "fit like a glove" with his research program. I knew that not only would his lab be a good place for me, but that the University of Alberta would be a wonderful place to stretch my wings as a scientist because it is a well-respected research institution.

Tell us about your experience in the Faculty of Science.

Coming from smaller institutions for my previous post-secondary and post-graduate degrees, I was amazed at the resources and support available in the Faculty of Science at the U of A. I was extremely fortunate to receive financial support for my degree and research from multiple institution-specific scholarships, including from the Killam Foundation, the Canadian Federation of University Women, and UAlberta North. That support combined with the academic freedom at the U of A took me to work with collaborators in Washington, DC, and to do research in the boreal forest of northern Alberta, the pine scrub of the Florida panhandle, the Great Basin desert of central Arizona, and the grasslands of Saskatchewan's Cypress Hills. 

I had the opportunity to learn from and work with many collaborators due to the abundance of arm's length relationships that the university has with other organizations like the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute and the Boreal Avian Modelling Project. And of course, I learned leaps and bounds about science communication by working with the Faculty of Science's excellent media team to share the story and results of my research with the public.

What is one of your favourite memories from your time at the U of A?

As an ecologist, my most impactful experiences are always those in the field, where I can connect with the animals that I spend the rest of the year thinking about. I had more adventures than I can count during my PhD at the University of Alberta, but the memories that are fondest are the nights spent wandering the sandy hills near McClelland Lake in northern Alberta. 

I spent hundreds of hours looking for nests of my study species at the most dark and quiet times of night, so far north that there was often a touch of aurora borealis in the sky and always a sliver of light on the horizon. The McClelland Lake area is a truly special landscape that will always have a piece of my heart.

What advice do you have for current and future students in the Faculty of Science?

Grad school is always overwhelming; don't be afraid to ask for help! There are so many resources and opportunities at the U of A, it's just a matter of finding the right fit for you. Talk to your friends, colleagues, supervisor. The community wants to see you thrive, especially when it comes to mental health. Reach out early, reach out often, and care for those around you.

How have you spent your time during COVID-19 distancing?

I gave birth to my daughter, Ardeya, two months before the first lock-down, so I've spent my pandemic experience a bit sleep-deprived, but loving the snuggles and playtime with my baby-turned-toddler.

How do you plan on celebrating convocation?

I didn't attend my BSc or MSc convocations, and so was admittedly a bit sad that this year's convocation would be remote. I was looking forward to wearing funky shoes under my doctoral gown. So I'm going to buy myself a pair of funky shoes anyway and wear them during a good meal with my family!

What's next after graduation?

I'm currently working remotely as a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Migratory Bird Center at the Smithsonian Institution studying the migration of a curious shorebird, the long-billed curlew.