N.L. fisheries researcher helping MUN students pay bills during COVID-19 crisis

A Memorial University professor is hiring cash-strapped international graduate students to help her continue fisheries research while the COVID-19 emergency has shut down much of the world.

Professor Ratana Chuenpagdee of the university's geography department in St. John's says she hopes to help some students pay their bills.

"Some international graduate students are relying on part-time jobs or money from their family. So they could be seriously affected," said Chuenpagdee.

"Either because they have lost their jobs or their parents at home aren't able to send them money. So it turns out that some of the students are in a pretty bad situation at the moment."

Chuenpagdee is involved in two research projects. She's leading a study of coastal communities and fisheries in Newfoundland and Labrador, and is also involved in some international research, a project on small-scale fisheries.

"In my lab we are all international. I'm from Thailand. We have people from the Philippines, Brazil, Croatia and the U.S.," she said.

Of course, her research is facing some unexpected problems because of the ongoing crisis.

"We received notification from the university that all field research has been suspended but the university is encouraging us to think about innovative ways to do research using existing data," she said.

That's where graduate students feeling the financial pinch come in. Chuenpagdee is hiring some of them to help her.

"There is a lot of work we can do by reading newspapers and gathering information that's online," she said.

"My research is global in scope. There is a lot of existing data that we can use, including information about small-scale fisheries so we want that data. We want to continue to look at the situation around the world. For the Newfoundland and Labrador project, we have to document Newfoundland fisheries affected by the COVID-19 crisis. So that's the kind of work that I'm going to be asking students to do," she said.

Potentially eight weeks of work

Chuenpagdee hopes to hire as many as 20 for up to eight weeks to start but she believes there are many more who could be involved.

"We are putting a table together to see how many students are in need of support and the list is growing," she said."With the projects I have, I may be able to support 10 to 20 but there will be 30 or 40 more who will be needing help."

Chuenpagdee hopes this project will inspire others to find ways to help instead of being paralyzed by uncertainty.

"I think we have to get past that state and start thinking about what we can do to help each other," she said. "We really need to step up at this time because there are people who need help and we haven't thought about them enough."

She hopes to have the first group of graduate students working by April 6.

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