Yana Fedortchouk, assistant professor

A day in the life

Yana Fedortchouk, assistant professor

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Going into the lab once a week gives students the opportunity to apply things they've already learned.

Answering questions about diamonds

Along one side of Assistant Professor Yana Fedortchouk’s office are a dozen large rock samples. One of them is a giant glossy shard of black obsidian. “I inherited it from the previous prof who taught igneous petrology,” she says.

Another sample looks like a thick slab of chocolate cake, bubbles trapped inside as a wave of lava flowed and cooled. “It’s only about three years old. I tell students it’s one of the few times they’ll be older than a rock sample,” she smiles, with a glint in her kyanite-blue eyes.

Dr. Fedortchouk completed a Master of Science (MSc) at Moscow State University, and then did a PhD at the University of Victoria. There, she became interested in kimberlite, a kind of volcanic—igneous—rock that can contain diamonds.

Her keen interest in kimberlite is a perfect fit with the Igneous Petrology course she teaches. “Once a week,” Dr. Fedortchouk says “students go into the lab to look at thin sections of igneous rock under the microscope. It also gives them the opportunity to apply things they’ve already learned.”

All of the professors in Dal's Earth Sciences Department, says Dr. Fedortchouk, try to make connections among each other’s courses, so students feel they’re building a rock-solid body of knowledge about geology. “That way,” she says, “students aren’t just taking discrete subjects.”

Field trips into the Nova Scotia landscape expand students’ knowledge even further, encouraging them to relate classroom learning to real life. “For one trip, we go to the North Mountain to see examples of very old basalt.”

Though Dr. Fedortchouk could have continued working for the Yukon government after her PhD, she had several options. A diamond company offered her work. She also applied for a teaching position at Dalhousie. “I really liked doing experiments, and I still had questions I wanted to answer,” she says. “I knew as a prof, I’d have the flexibility to teach and do research.”

Around the same time, she received funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to establish her own research lab. “When I came here for the interview, I liked the people,” Dr. Fedortchouk says. “And they offered me exactly the classes I thought I’d love to teach.”

Four years later, she’s happy about her choice. “I really like Halifax—more and more each year!” she says. “It’s small, but it has a lot to offer.”