Introduction: FIRE lab in Swansea

The Freshwater Interdisciplinary Research and Engagement (FIRE) Lab started in Swansea in early 2018. The lab is supported by a Sêr Cymru Fellowship held by Steph Januchowski-Hartley, and is focused on addressing questions about human changes on freshwater ecosystems and the relationships that people have with these ecosystems in Wales and beyond. In late summer 2018, Tara Cater and James White joined the FIRE Lab and will be leading research related the themes mentioned above. As a way of introducing our growing team, we each wanted to share a bit about our backgrounds, and about what inspired us to conduct our research about freshwater ecosystems here in Swansea.

FIRE Lab Autumn 2018
On our way to dinner with visiting researcher Dani Rabaiotti.


I am an environmental scientist, writer, and artist motivated to understand aquatic ecosystems. I grew up in Michigan, USA, near the shores of Lake Michigan, and studied the waters and lands there until 2006. As a dedicated researcher and educator, over the last decade I have worked to better our understanding of the natural world and the diverse relationships that exist between humans and nature. I communicate and share stories about my own as well as others’ experiences with our natural environment, and do this through diverse mediums including poetry, sketching, photography, and blogging.

Over the last five years I have applied for funding to lead my own research, and to support others to achieve their research goals. I feel very fortunate to have secured a Sêr Cymru Rising Star Fellowship from the Welsh government, and to be able to mentor and work with James and Tara for the next four years. One of the primary goals of our new lab is to foster a shared respect with each other and others who we work with. One way we hope to achieve this in the lab is through mentoring and supporting each other. Tara and James bring a dynamic and diverse set of skills to our lab, and I am excited for the three of us, and others as the team grows, to work together to address challenges and questions that interest us as well as communities and decision makers.


I moved to Swansea in September 2018 to work with the ‘Freshwater Interdisciplinary Research and Engagement’ (FIRE) laboratory. My motivation in joining the lab is to find ways to connect science and art in creative, exciting, and productive ways in order to create shared stories of water cultures in Wales. I am a cultural geographer and poet. My research background is in geography, political economy, and Indigenous studies. This training has provided me with a deep interest in interdisciplinary approaches and communicating academic findings to diverse audiences. I grew up in northern Canada, and have lived, conducted research, and worked in remote Arctic communities throughout my life. I have been travelling and living around the world (New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and Scandinavia) for the last ten years. These travel journeys have inspired me to explore through academia and poetry the ways that humans shape and create multiple homes and identities as they move—connecting with their environment and changing the place through their interactions.

My Master’s and PhD research has prepared me well for this Research Assistant position. I have conducted six years of ethnographic fieldwork in the Canadian Arctic exploring the socio-economic impacts of mineral development on an Inuit (Northern Indigenous) community, examining the strategies used by local communities to assert their rights in environmental management issues. In April 2017, I was awarded the Canadian Polar Commission- Robert McGee Award, which is given to a PhD student conducting timely, important, and culturally relevant social science research with Indigenous communities. I am excited to have the opportunity to work with Welsh community members, artists, academics, and policy makers to explore how people value and know freshwater ecosystems. I am eager to conduct fieldwork in different sites across Wales and to learn from community members about their cultural, economic, and social practices.


I joined the ‘Freshwater Interdisciplinary Research and Engagement’ (FIRE) laboratory at Swansea University in August, 2018, with the vision of undertaking cutting-edge ecological research within freshwater environments. Growing up, I always had a strong interest in the environment and was particularly enthused by the aquatic organisms that I encountered during pond dipping and fishing excursions. I grew up in Birmingham in the English Midlands, which is situated in the River Tame catchment and is nationally regarded as one of the most heavily urbanised water basins. After being awarded my BSc in ‘Physical Geography’ from the University of Southampton in 2013, I returned to my hometown and undertook a MSc in ‘River Environments and their Management’ at the University of Birmingham. Here, I undertook my dissertation examining river ecosystem responses to restoration strategies implemented along the polluted Tame and developed my passion for ecological research.

After being awarded a distinction for my MSc, I undertook a PhD at Loughborough University where I examined the influences of different water resource management operations on aquatic ecosystems. During this time, I published my scientific findings in various high impact peer reviewed journals, which entailed the exploration of aquatic ecosystem responses to different anthropogenic pressures across various water bodies (including ponds, temporary headwater streams and heavily regulated lowland rivers). My academic achievements, additional community engagement activities and contributions to the host department led to me being one of five students across Loughborough University awarded with the ‘Doctoral College Research Student Prize’. My PhD experience provided me with a skill set and knowledge base required to undertake research within the FIRE lab at Swansea University. My research specifically examines the impacts of instream building infrastructure (e.g. dams, weirs and road crossings) on aquatic ecosystems within the context of river management strategies and global change ecology.

That does it for our first FIRE Lab blog post! Stay tuned for future blog posts from Steph, Tara, James, and other’s! We look forward to our next four years in Swansea and Wales more broadly! 



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