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UVic student proves it’s possible to earn a PhD at the beach

The engineering PhD candidate is studying hiker’s water quality on Juan de Fuca Trail
Camille Zimmer, right, is a PhD candidate studying water treatment methods for hikers. Alice Gentleman landed a dream summer job as Zimmer’s lab technician. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

One University of Victoria student has found a clever way to earn a PhD and spend her summer at the beach.

Civil engineer Camille Zimmer has been stationed at Sombrio Beach along the Juan de Fuca Trail this summer testing water samples from campers and hikers. She wants to know how effective various water treatment methods are, so in exchange for cold water or chocolate bars, she’s asking hikers to bring their water bottles to the outdoor lab.

Early results indicate that treating water every time is the most important factor. She hasn’t seen any obvious trends between types of treatment, but hasn’t had time to do more than drop samples off before turning around to come back to the beach.

Zimmer and her assistant Alice Gentleman, a civil engineering student at UVic, have a folding table and canopy tent covering their rudimentary science equipment. The ‘office’ looks straight onto the waves rolling into Sombrio Beach where they’ve camped nine times for two to three days at a time. She’ll finish the sample collecting (i.e. beach viewing) part of her research in August, and then has a few months to analyze it all.

Zimmer’s master’s project focused on how to conduct scientific studies in field conditions, so doing an outdoor sample gathering at a remote place with no cell service wasn’t a long leap for her PhD project.

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