Chris Burn won the Camsell medal for his nearly two decades of work for The Royal Canadian Geographic Society. He began working with the Society when Iain Wallace, who was then chair of the society’s research and grants committee, asked Burn if he’d like to help (Wallace also won a Camsell award this year and is featured in the video above). He was eventually elected to the board of governors and finally served as vice-president of the society. Apart from his work with the society Burn is a professor of geography at Carleton University, and a permafrost expert who spends much of his summers doing field research.
What do you think the role of the society is?
I think the key thing that the society has going for it, is access to the schools of the country. We’re privileged that a number of school teachers are associated with the society’s education committee.
How do you see your role as a teacher?
I feel that our students should be able to come and talk to me at any time that they want to because that’s what I’m paid to be here. I’m old school. The students come to my classes and we try to make the class as much as possible a discussion about things, rather than a daily powerpoint presentation with 16 bullet points on each slide.
What are you most proud of professionally?
Ever since I went to the University of British Columbia in 1986, I had a very close relationship with J. Ross MacKay. He was the world authority on permafrost for many years. Sadly, he died recently. He and I went to the field every summer and the last time we went was in 2011 when he was 95. He was a mentor, a colleague, and a friend. We had a close relationship.
How did he inspire you?
Two principle ways: The first was his belief in the importance of being in the field. The second is that the Arctic is an area of Canada that means a lot to all of us and it’s an area we don’t know too much about, but we do know that it’s undergoing significant changes at the moment. So trying to understand how those changes reflect in the environment and the potential for future changes are quite an important exercise.
I hope to continue to be able to work in the western Arctic and guide graduate students through their masters and PhD degrees. I’m involved in developing new initiatives in graduate education at Carleton University for people interested in the North.