UNBC student credits internship for landing his dream job

University of Northern British Columbia masters student Tim Burkhart is in the enviable position of holding down his dream job before he has completed his thesis.

That's not something every graduate student can claim and for his good fortune, Burkhart is thanking Mitacs, a program that provides research internships with companies around the province.

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Through Mitacs, the student in UNBC's natural resources and environmental studies graduate program landed an internship at Landsong Archaeological Consultants, based in Moberly Lake, and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.

His job was to create a digital "living atlas" in response to concerns raised during a series of workshops UNBC hosted focused on conservation in the B.C. Peace region.

"One of the things that participants had expressed frustration with was the inability to share mapping data between organizations," Burkhart said. "And so, one of the recommendations was the building of some sort of central hub, specifically for spatial mapping data related to land use planning and conservation in the region."

By the time he had finished the project, he had a full-time job at Y2Y, a joint Canada-U.S. not-for-profit organization that connects and protects habitat along the Rocky Mountains from Yellowstone to Yukon, and is now living in Chetwynd.

"It worked for me," Burkhart said.

"I got the job I was looking for before I had even finished my thesis - much to the chagrin of my supervisors who are now bugging me to get it done, but I guess that's one of those good problems."

Mitacs is a national, not-for-profit organization that has designed and delivered research and training programs in Canada for 15 years.

"Working with 60 universities, thousands of companies, and both federal and provincial governments, we build partnerships that support industrial and social innovation in Canada," according to the Mitacs website.

Burkhart said Mitacs provided about half the funding for his internship, while the Vancouver Foundation also contributed. He also credited his thesis supervisors, Pam Wright and Phil Mullins, for helping him to identify the opportunity.

Given his experience with the program, Burkhart applauded a recent provincial government decision to contribute $6 million to Mitacs as part of its recently announced Tech Strategy.

"It's very competitive out there for grad students, not just for funding but for internships and for the job market afterwards, and so a program like Mitacs that helps with all of those concerns, it was really lucky for me. I got a job before I graduated. I can't praise UNBC and Mitacs enough."

The atlas maps out the Peace River Break region, providing an online source of sharable data for the area. It's called the Peace River Break because the Peace River Valley is the only part of of the Canadian Rockies that "breaks east" across the mountains.

"It's actually breaking the mountain chain and so it funnels this warm Pacific air into the region so the Peace River region has its own unique micro-climate," Burkhart said.

Prior to enrolling at UNBC, Burkhart, who grew up in Chilliwack, was an operations manager for B.C. Parks.

"It was a great job but it didn't have a lot of mobility or room to grow, especially with the shrinking public service side of B.C. Parks so I was looking for a position with a non-profit organization so I could still do work on the land but be able to make some change as well," Burkhart said.

"UNBC had a great program that met a lot of the criteria that my initial job search had looked up. The natural resources and environment studies program is pretty widely respected."

Burkhart's job now is to identify projects in the Peace River Break that Y2Y can support and drive forward its vision for the region. It means working with First Nations, various community groups and branches of government.

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