Convocation ‘22: Jonathan Farr, BSc (Honors) Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology

Finding wonder and a career in the natural world.

Donna McKinnon - 06 June 2022

When Jonathan Farr began his studies at the U of A, he had no idea what he wanted to do, but science, he believed, would provide the most opportunity to explore and learn. From studying and even publishing a paper on black-capped chickadees to snorkeling among sea urchins at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, Jonathan discovered that ecology and nature resonated deeply with him. His studies became fuelled by a desire to understand and uncover the wonders of the natural world, which helped him through the challenges of remote learning.

Throughout his academic journey, Jonathan has also been active in the community, serving as a cross country ski instructor for kids, coaching paralympic swimmers with the Steadward Bears swim team and volunteering with the U of A Chapter of The Wildlife Society.

This summer Jonathan will be working in Banff with Parks Canada on the Plains Bison reintroduction team, followed by a master's program in wildlife science at the University of Montana.

Congratulations Jonathan!

What led you to pick the U of A?
Like many people, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I decided to attend U of A because I figured that the science program would allow me to explore a variety of fields without being forced to specialize right out of high school. In my first two years of classes I was able to try out many courses on a variety of topics. While I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up, I immediately fell in love with my courses in ecology where I was introduced to the theories, concepts and hypotheses that explain some of the many mysteries of the natural world. In hindsight, I'm so glad that my degree at U of A gave me the flexibility to explore my interests and broaden my mind.

What is one of your favourite memories from your time at the U of A?
This is a tough question because there were so many amazing times at the U of A, even despite the COVID-19 pandemic. If I had to choose, I'd say my favorite memory would be snorkeling with my friends in the Pacific Ocean near Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, where I completed the last semester of my degree. There was nothing more memorable than wrangling a wetsuit, tossing on my mask and snorkel, staggering into the frigid ocean, and marveling at the underwater landscapes, critters and seaweeds. Sea urchins, crabs, kelp and more captivated me, and nothing was better than coming out of the frigid waters to swap stories with my nerdy snorkel pals.

Did you take on any leadership roles while you were a student?
During my time at the U of A, I had some awesome leadership opportunities. I helped coach Paralympic swimmers with the Steadward Bears swim team, got to provide mentorship for an early career undergraduate student's research project on urban coyotes, and was the co-president of the U of A Chapter of The Wildlife Society. I also got to lead three undergraduate research projects, and even published my first scientific paper on black-capped chickadees (my favourite backyard bird) in Ecology and Evolution.

Did you face any significant obstacles or challenges during your program?
The COVID-19 pandemic was the largest challenge of my university experience. In the middle of my third year, everything changed to online and I wasn't able to do so many of the things that made university fun. Coffee with friends, studying near Remedy Cafe, in-person lab meetings and intramural volleyball were all off-limits for most of the duration of my degree. To help me cope with the social isolation and to re-focus, I spent immense amounts of time outside exploring nature. Weekends at Elk Island and summers in the Rocky Mountains helped me stay grounded and enjoy my studies despite their online format.

What advice do you have for current and future students?
The U of A might seem scary at first with the abundance of buildings, large lecture halls and super smart professors. Don't be intimidated by it all, because the U of A has an incredible number of opportunities waiting for those who take initiative and ask questions. Talk to professors, advisors, friends and upper-year students and build your experience to best suit what you need and want. I promise, it's not as scary as you think and it'll be worth it. The U of A has so many incredible things to offer from field schools to student clubs to world-class researchers, and it's up to you to take these opportunities and run with them. Not sure what you want to do when you grow up? That's ok! The U of A is the place to try new things, fail, succeed, and find out what sparks your desire to learn and grow.

How do you plan on celebrating convocation?
I'll enjoy a nice cold beer in the backcountry of Banff National Park with my friends and family.

What's next after graduation?
This summer I'm working with the Parks Canada Plains Bison Reintroduction Team to help restore this ecologically and culturally important species in Banff National Park. My work involves tracking down bison, elk and bighorn sheep to collect their scat for DNA analyses in hopes of determining what they're eating at different times of the year. In September, I'll start my Master's of Wildlife Science at the University of Montana, where I hope to continue to explore my love of nature and science to ask and answer questions that will help inform future ecological restoration projects.

In the end, my career goal is to help forge ecosystems that can be resilient to climate change, preserve biodiversity, and enhance the lives of future generations.