Yet another Greenlandic biology student defended a Master’s degree in her home country

Today, 15 June 2017, postgraduate biology student at Aarhus University, Sascha Schiøtt from Qaqortoq, defended her thesis at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources and may now address herself as ”Cand. Scient. in Biology”. This is the first time that a female Greenlandic biology student defends her thesis in her home country. In February earlier this year, Mala Broberg was the first Greenlandic biology student ever to defend a Master’s degree in Greenland.

Sascha Schiøtt was examined by examiner Morten Meldgaard (adjunct professor at University of Greenland and professor at Natural History Museum of Denmark), her main supervisor Søren Rysgaard (adjunct professor at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources and professor at Institute for Bioscience - Arctic Research Centre, Aarhus University) and her project supervisor Aqqalu Rosing-Asvid (senior scientist at the department for Birds and Mammals at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources).

A unique seal

Sascha Schiøtt’s thesis – Analysis of the ringed seal’s use of the Ilulissat Icefjord based on satellite tracking data, and an analysis of the ringed seal’s and the Greenland halibut’s food selection competition in Ilulissat Icefjord, based on the analysis of stomach contents – is about the ringed seal, which live and migrate exclusively in the Ilulissat Icefjord. More specifically, the thesis is about their living conditions and the competition for food with other sea animals.
Using attached satellite transmitters, Sascha Schiøtt has researched the ringed seal’s migration patterns and diving behaviour, the geographical distribution of gender and age groups, as well as the movements of the seals in the fjord system.

- These ringed seals are unique because they live only inside the actual fjord system and don’t migrate further out to the coast. I have researched the contents of approximately 120 ringed seal stomachs and 300 halibut stomachs, which I got from fishers and hunters from Ilulissat. This has given me the material to research whether the ringed seal and the halibut compete for food in the ice fjord.

Started out with small animals

Sascha Schiøtt has, for as long as she can remember, always been interested in animals and nature.

- I remember that I always liked to study especially small animals and insects, which would normally scare the other kids. Unlike them, I would go to study the animals, while the other kids ran away. We also had a boat, so the whole family – myself, my younger brother and my parents – would spend a lot of time sailing out every weekend and summer. My father was also very good at making me interested in nature and had a lot of interesting books about nature, which I spent a lot of time reading. He always had answers for my questions about animals and nature.

Personally, I think that Greenland is much more interesting than for example the tropics or other countries. I have travelled to different countries, such as South Africa, Australia, Thailand, Portugal, Denmark and Iceland, and found all kinds of different nature exiting, but I have always found the greatest peace and fascination in the Greenlandic nature, which fills me with pride being able to call Greenland my home. I have a special memory of a sailing trip to Qaanaaq, where I experienced the Greenlandic nature with completely new eyes, because it was completely different from the South Greenlandic nature, in which I grew up. I fell in love with the rugged nature in the northern parts of West Greenland and got even more curious to find out what Greenland also offers. I have a dream to experience the northernmost parts of Greenland and especially North-East Greenland, which I still haven’t seen with my own eyes.

- I also believe that it is important for people outside of Greenland to know what is going on here and in which conditions we and the living resources of the country live. There are certain things and conditions that make Greenland a unique place on the global map.

 Grateful to be able to defend thesis in home country

Due to a collaborative agreement between the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources and Aarhus University regarding courses for MSc students in biology, Sascha Schiøtt was able to defend her thesis home in Greenland.

 - It is a really good solution that gives biology students the opportunity to do and complete their thesis at the institute itself, where there are experts to ask and consult. I was allowed to stay here during the entire work on my thesis and to use the institute’s laboratories in connection with my research. Having my own office means so much. The best thing about it is that the scientists always are very helpful, when I have doubts about something in my thesis. I probably wouldn’t have that opportunity, if I was based in Aarhus – I mean, just to drop by and ask scientists working with Arctic and Greenlandic resources. It would most likely have been very different if I had been in Aarhus, looking out the window at Danish nature, while I was trying to write about Greenlandic nature.

 Greatest wish: to be a biologist in Greenland

Sascha Schiøtt’s future plan is to return to Greenland after finishing her studies.

 - Of course I hope to be able to get a job as a biologist or a scientist here at home. In my opinion, there are too few Greenlandic biology students. When you live in such a close contact with nature here at home, the interest for nature ought to be greater and sufficient to attract more to the study of biology. Too many young people aim for something different, even though they have this unique precondition for working with the exiting nature that lies right outside the door, Sascha Schiøtt finishes.

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