Recent PhD graduate awarded one of Canada’s top prizes for research

Karina Benessaiah, a recent PhD in geography graduate from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, has been named a 2018 Banting Fellow.

The Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships Program is Canada’s most prestigious and highest valued award for postdoctoral researchers. The award provides significant funding for both national and international researchers who show potential to positively contribute to Canada's economic, social and research-based growth.

Benessaiah, who was awarded her PhD from ASU in the spring of 2018, travelled to Greece to conduct her research for her dissertation that focused on understanding how people adapt to rapid, multifaceted social-ecological changes, and to assess societal and environmental transformations.  

“Environmental changes, economic recessions and globalized trade are all drivers of change that shape livelihoods and environments around the world, often in unexpected ways,” Benessaiah said. “Understanding the processes involved in those social-ecological transformations highlights emergent vulnerabilities and potential opportunities towards sustainable and equitable pathways.”

With the upheavals experienced within Greece’s economy, Benessaiah's research focused on how that crisis brought people “back to the land,” supporting her thought of looking at sustainability efforts from the vantage of small-scale projects that work and that may then be used to a broader benefit.

Recalling her work in Greece, Benessaiah said, “People went back to the land not necessarily out of despair but because the crisis upended previous markers of social and economic success and thus allowed people to explore different pathways, which if supported, could lead to a broader shift towards sustainability.”

Karina Benessaiah (right) can be seen working the land as part of her research of small-scale sustainability efforts.

According to Billie L. Turner, professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning who served as chair of Benessaiah’s doctoral committee, her research has the capacity to be groundbreaking.

“Karina’s dissertation carves out a research problem that has heretofore not been addressed by the sustainability science and ecosystem service research communities in which she engages,” Turner said. “The Banting Fellowship, including her extremely high ranking in the competition, registers the innovativeness and quality of her research and the promise that she holds for scholarship.”

For the duration of the fellowship, Benessaiah will be hosted by McGill University in Montreal, which is where she completed both her bachelor's and master’s degrees. Her research during the fellowship will take place both in Montreal and Greece, as she continues investigating how social-ecological transformations are scaling up.

In total, over 590 applications were reviewed for the highly coveted award and only 70 were ultimately funded. Benessaiah was one of 23 to be funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.