Tackling complex problems for a better future

The journey to completing a PhD is not always smooth nor linear. Beyond the intellectual rigour of coursework and research papers, pursuing a PhD requires unconventional and, at times, interdisciplinary thinking.  

Through the years of pursuing a doctoral degree, candidates’ critical research helps to unlock conventional barriers by developing new and creative approaches to tackling complex problems.  

Waterloo PhD graduates undertake ground-breaking research projects that can often have global impact and lead to a healthier, more sustainable future.  

Join us in celebrating and congratulating some of this year’s PhD graduands who will be crossing the stage at the Spring 2024 Convocation ceremonies. 

Dr. Emma Juracic

Dr. Emma Juracic completed a PhD in Kinesiology and Health Sciences, under the supervision of Dr. Russell Tupling, where she studied the membrane system that regulates calcium inside the muscle cells of our bodies.  

Having now completed her third degree at the Waterloo, Juracic shares how taking one kinesiology course in the final semester of her undergraduate degree inspired her to pursue further studies. "That course changed my trajectory. I fell in love with the research, and the instructor of that course became my supervisor and mentor for my MSc and PhD," she says.  

Reflecting on what she will miss most about her time at Waterloo, Juracic says, "The kinesiology department at the University is one that inspires and empowers... being in that atmosphere was very special, and it is a culture I aspire to create everywhere I go."  

Juracic is now pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship at McMaster University where she is leading a clinical trial with the aim of advancing our understanding of Type 1 Diabetes-induced skeletal muscle myopathy and the role of exercise training in maintaining muscle health. 

Dr. Rebecca McAlpine

Dr. Rebecca McAlpine completed a PhD in History under the supervision of Dr. Ian Milligan. Her research focused on the institutionalization of gender-based violence in 17th century Somerset, England. 

"The cases I focused on were early iterations of child support cases, known as bastardy records, which involved women going to court to request maintenance for their child from the alleged father," she says. "Through the employment of a range of digital tools and methods, I found that the structure of the adjudication process constituted a form of gender-based violence against unwed mothers." 

When asked why she chose to study at Waterloo, MacAlpine shares, "Several members of my family are proud Waterloo alumni, so I grew up hearing about their incredible experiences and the community they developed while pursuing their degrees."  

After her BA and MA in History at Waterloo, MacAlpine completed a Master of Teaching at the University of Toronto before choosing to return for her PhD "because of the great connections I had in the Tri-University History program and the opportunity to work with Dr. Ian Milligan," she states. 

MacAlpine’s fondest memory as a Waterloo student was co-teaching several courses with Dr. Greta Kroeker. "I had the privilege of taking her courses as an undergraduate and it was one of my greatest joys as a doctoral candidate to be able to teach alongside her," she says. Following the completion of her doctoral degree, MacAlpine’s tenure on campus continues as the Centre for Teaching Excellence Liaison to the Faculty of Arts and Affiliated and Federated Institutions of Waterloo. 

Dr. Sara Ross-Howe

Dr. Sara Ross-Howe completed a PhD in Systems Design Engineering under the supervision of Dr. Hamid Tizhoosh. Her dissertation focused on the development of a novel deep learning framework, called the BiometricNet, for processing continuous, multimodal physiological signals from clinical wearable devices, for the detection and prediction of adverse clinical events. 

Ross-Howe’s time at Waterloo began in 1990 as an undergraduate student in the Systems Design Engineering program. "I loved the program for the broad foundation in engineering it provided, as well as affording me the flexibility to find my passion for biomedical engineering and machine learning," she says. "It is because of the supportive faculty and meaningful research being conducted that I went on to complete both a master’s and PhD in Systems Design Engineering here."    

While pursuing her PhD part-time for the past seven years, Ross-Howe also worked full-time as a mom, wife and head of research and development of a biomedical technology company. She encourages anyone who is contemplating or have already started a PhD to never give up. "A PhD can be a very solitary journey, with many moments of doubt, but you owe it to yourself and all’of those who believe in you to see it through," she says.

Dr. Guneet Sandhu

Dr. Guneet Sandhu completed a PhD in Sustainability Management under the supervision of Dr. Olaf Weber. Her doctoral research investigated water risk assessment, perception and management, and developed a decision-support tool to foster sustainable water management in Ontario. 

Sandhu previously completed a master’s degree in Sustainability Management at Waterloo and was drawn to the program because of its interdisciplinary component, which she felt approached wicked problems (complex challenges that defy straightforward solutions) in a unique way. "The program uniquely integrated different disciplinary paradigms to address wicked sustainability challenges, including water," she says. "That enriching experience - exceptional faculty members and exciting research opportunities in the field of sustainable water management - are the reasons I decided to pursue a PhD in 2020." 

Sandhu plans to continue disseminating her doctoral research and exploring opportunities to advance transdisciplinary scholarship, practice, and collaborative approaches for sustainably and holistically managing a critical and shared resource like water.  

Her fondest memory of her time at Waterloo was the opportunity to learn from and collaborate with her supervisor and doctoral committee. "Their expertise, guidance, kindness and encouragement have been instrumental in navigating the ebbs and flows of this doctoral journey, instilling key skills and confidence in me as a scholar," she shares.  

Dr. Madison Van Dyk

Dr. Madison Van Dyk completed a PhD in Combinatorics and Optimization working primarily on discrete optimization problems arising in large-scale parcel delivery networks, where she developed approximation and exact algorithms with improved theoretical guarantees, to make them function more efficiently. 

"From my undergraduate research experience in the combinatorics and optimization department, it became clear that the department is one of the best places in the world for my research area," she says. "My connections with students and professors sealed the deal in continuing my research here." 

Being heavily involved in intramural and pick-up sports with students in her department, Van Dyk will greatly miss the moments where they built comradery on the court and field. "My department was a close-knit bunch and I am grateful to have completed my PhD with such a supportive group," she states.  

As for what’s next, Van Dyk will be working as an applied scientist on the modeling and optimization team at Amazon, where she will continue to research network design problems, with a slightly more applied focus. She also hopes to continue to dabble in problems with a more theoretical focus. 

Dr. Bowen Zhou

Dr. Bowen Zhou completed his PhD in Earth and Environmental Science (Water) under the supervision of Drs. Philippe Van Cappellen and Chris Parsons, where his research focused on assessing how the urban stormwater management systems can change the eutrophication risks by understanding and predicting their effects on phosphorus export from urban areas.   

Zhou’s journey to Waterloo began during a collaboration between the University’s Ecohydrology Research Group (ERG) and a project he was working on during his first full-time job in China. "I developed good connections with people in ERG and someone in the group suggested I pursue a PhD," he says. "I decided to come because the University of Waterloo is not only a world-renowned, but also contains ’water’ in its name, and my major focus is on water." 

His fondest memories as a student at Waterloo include the conferences he attended with friends in Hawaii, Chicago, Saskatoon and France, where he got to share his research and experience with people from all’over the world.  

Zhou advises other PhD students to actively communicate with their committee members and colleagues as these dialogues often inspired him to think more critically and develop innovative ideas. His time at Waterloo continues with a postdoctoral fellowship, where he will be focusing on urban stormwater management.