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L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science 2019: Zoe Panchen

Department of Geography
University of British Columbia


Video name

L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science 2019: Zoe Panchen


NSERC Communications



Release date

November 26, 2019


Zoe Panchen is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia in Greg Henry’s Arctic Ecology Lab. She is a botanist and ecologist with special interests in climate change, Arctic ecosystems and plant phenology (the timing of nature’s seasonal events such as the timing of flowering).

Dr. Zoe Panchen

My name's Zoe Panchen. I'm a post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Geography at UBC. I study how Arctic plants respond to climate change.

I grew up in a family that were all scientists. Both my parents have degrees in physics. My siblings also did computer science. I had a natural ability in sciences, and there was – seemed to be no barriers to me, and so I just went ahead and followed what I was interested in and what I was good at. I worked as a telecommunication engineer for a number of years, but then decided to switch careers and pursue my passion for plants. You only live once, so why do the same job for the whole of your life.

I'm curious about how plants are responding to climate change. I'm particularly interested in Arctic ecosystems. The Canadian Arctic is a very remote area, and very few people are able to get there. It's a beautiful place. Really there's nothing else up there. It allows us to look at an ecosystem that – that's not been impacted by urbanization or by fragmentation, so therefore maybe some of the changes we're seeing are more likely to be related to climate change.

We're seeing what we're calling shrubification, so the shrubs are getting wider and taller. The plants there are very short at the moment, but we're seeing an increase in canopy height. And this will in fact impact some of the less competitive species. And we're seeing reduced amount of lichens and mosses, which are the main source of food for the caribou.

Winning the NSERC L’Oréal-UNESCO Award has given me added confidence in my abilities as a scientist. I'm honoured to have received the award, and I am really appreciative of L’Oréal-UNESCO supporting women in science.

There's quite a few people who have thought about changing careers or going back to school, and they reach out to me and – because they're interested in how I managed to change careers from an engineer to ecologist and my experience of going back to graduate school later in life.

My advice to students is to follow where their passion takes them. Life is a continual learning experience, so make the most of it.