Alyssa Cirtwill talks about fifth year

A day in the life

Alyssa Cirtwill talks about fifth year

Alyssa Cirtwill_Biology_36030 (214x213)

I feel more confident I can do something to help the environment. Dr. Worm was great that way—he said, ‘conservationists shouldn’t despair, but look for solutions.’ I’m going to dedicate my life to finding one really good one.

Studying food webs for better conservation

“Biology is my passion,” says Alyssa Cirtwill, a fifth-year student working on her honours thesis toward a Bachelor of Science with Combined Honours in Biology and Statistics. “In first year, I was convinced that Stats would be useful for Biology. And it is,” she says. “It helps with ecology and with managing large data sets.”

Considering her thesis project involves looking at food webs all around the globe, it’s a skill that comes in handy. “I’m investigating patterns of food web structures—how ecosystems are put together over latitudes and how that changes. It’s been great,” Alyssa explains. “I sort of inherited the project from a master’s student, but because of my stats background, I’ve been able to pursue it a lot further.”

From age five, Alyssa knew she wanted to be a biologist. “I watched a lot of nature shows,” she smiles. “And I decided I wanted a career that would allow me to go to all these fantastic places and understand how nature works.”

More recently, her interest grew in pursuing an environmental side—which she’s exploring in her thesis: “By understanding how food webs are put together, which latitudes are most vulnerable to species loss, and which are most unstable, we can prioritize conservation targets.”

Before starting her thesis, Alyssa took the SEASIDE program’s food web course. “We went to Herring Cove to sample species and look at feeding relationships, building our own food web from the ground up.”

Alyssa also appreciates Dal’s close association with the National Research Council (NRC). “I’ve been working there the past two years, seeing industry applications of research,” she says, explaining she’s been trying to make fertilizer out of seaweed.

She also appreciates other things beyond the Dal campus. “I’m not a big city person,” Alyssa admits. “I like that Halifax is smaller, and I felt Dal had more personality than other schools I looked at. And the East Coast has a slower pace—people are friendlier. It’s a great place to live. If I go abroad for grad school, I’d come back as a prof.”