Sarah Burch

“I Can Ask Any Question”

As a climate researcher, she loves finding answers anywhere. She also loves reading, yoga and binge-watching The West Wing.


Sarah Burch is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management and the Canada Research Chair in Sustainability Governance and Innovation at the University of Waterloo.  We asked her everything from what she is reading to what advice she would give to young researchers in hopes of giving you a better understanding of one of the best minds in Canadian research.

What inspired you to become a researcher?
I just wanted answers. The challenges of climate change and sustainability, in my view, offer incredible opportunities to create more just communities, but the challenges we face in making this transition are spectacular.  I wanted to find a job where I could think across disciplinary boundaries, learn from the biggest brains on the planet, and work on pressing problems.

What do you like most about your work?
I like the freedom that my work brings: both intellectual and practical.  I can ask any question, challenge any assumption, and work with anyone who inspires me.  This is so rare, and so valuable.

How will your research make a difference in people’s lives?
I hope that my research will help communities, both citizens and decision-makers, understand what climate change means for them, and how much better (healthier, more beautiful, more resilient, more diverse, more prosperous) sustainable communities can be than our current, carbon-intensive, sprawling concrete jungles.

What advice would you give to young researchers?
Say yes to everything that you can, while still staying healthy.  Say yes to writing, to travelling, to collaborating.  Open yourself to constructive criticism as early in your thinking as possible, and stay attached to your deeper motivations for doing research.

What do you read?
I try to balance out the mountains of reading I do for my research with fiction of all varieties (contemporary literary fiction, dys/utopian science fiction, historical novels, the odd young adult gem, and of course the Gruffalo (over and over and over).

What natural talent would you like to be gifted with?
I wish I could speak many languages, without…you know… having to learn them. I also wish I could paint or draw without inhibition.

What’s on your iPod/CD collection/turntable?
Metric, Beethoven, Fun., Damien Rice, Imogen Heap, Blue Rodeo, Hawksley Workman

What do you like to do for fun?
Piano, yoga, colouring with my hilarious daughter, cooking with my husband, riding my bike, swimming, and watching the West Wing over and over.