Sydney Solland stands on a ledge next to a rock face with climbing gear in front of her

Grad student researches experiences of female rock climbers

March 5, 2024

Sydney Solland shares her story

Born and raised in the Okanagan, Sydney Solland describes herself as an avid outdoor adventurer. When she learned about VIU’s Master of Arts in Sustainable Leisure Management program, it felt like a perfect fit.

Before VIU, Sydney studied tourism and hospitality at Okanagan College, after which she worked for five years for Tourism Kelowna. She decided to enroll in graduate studies in 2023 because her long-term goal is to become a university professor and researcher. For her master’s degree research project, she is exploring barriers women face in the sport of rock climbing.   

Sydney scales a rock face

Tell us a little bit about you before VIU.

Before attending VIU, I completed my Bachelor of Business Administration (Tourism and Hospitality major) at Okanagan College. I was born and raised in the Okanagan and moved away from my hometown for the first time in September 2023 to attend grad school at VIU. Once my undergrad was completed, I worked for five years for Tourism Kelowna as their Manager of Community and Visitor Engagement. During this time, I managed the operations of the Kelowna Visitor Centre, including volunteers, staffing/HR, administration and day-to-day operations. I am an avid outdoor adventurer, with my main sport being rock climbing.

Why did you choose VIU for grad school?

The Sustainable Leisure Management program aligns with my goals and values. I was looking for a specialized program because I have a very good idea of the direction I would like to take in my future career. See the final question to learn more 

Can you describe your research for us?

My research focuses on experiences of climbing for women with diverse identities. My research aims to explore how women with diverse identities, including age, race, ethnicity, ability, cisgender and transgender women, give meaning to their climbing experiences and will look to answer the following research questions:

  • What challenges do women with diverse identities face in the sport of climbing? and
  • What meanings do women with diverse identities give their climbing experiences?

What have you found out so far?

My review of existing research has shown: 

  • Women are commonly underrepresented and left out of settings where outdoor recreation takes place. This also appears to be true in climbing-specific spaces.
  • Many outdoor recreation spaces are rooted in colonial, white and masculine history, which has caused challenges for women in outdoor recreation. 
  • Motherhood, barriers to entry and marketplace inequalities can impact women's experiences and participation in climbing. 
  • The impacts that these challenges leave on women, especially in climbing, is not well known or well researched, specifically within the leisure literature. 
  • Research has yet to consider the ways women with diverse and intersecting identities experience climbing.

Once my literature review, ethics approval and research proposal are completed, I will conduct semi-structured online and face-to-face interviews with women climbers in British Columbia. The study will be open to women of diverse identities, including age, race, ethnicity, abilities and cis/trans.

What do you like best about being a graduate student?

The thing I like most is the endless learning. I have always been someone who has loved learning and have been privileged enough to do so throughout my life. Attending grad school has allowed me to continue to learn every day through the teachings of my knowledgeable and wonderful professors and fellow students. I also truly value the connection to other students going through the same experience I am.

What advice do you have for new grad students or those thinking of going to grad school?

If you think you want to do it, take the risk! It feels like a big step, and it can be intimidating, but if you have found something you are passionate about and would like to deepen your knowledge in, I say do it. 

Is there a VIU resource you wished you would have known about sooner?

The team in the library is extremely helpful. Use them! I also highly recommend making connections with your professors and fellow students. They can support you in many ways and they are extremely valuable connections to have. Also, find yourself a study buddy to bounce ideas off!

What’s after grad school for you?

I would like to complete my PhD. My end goal is to continue being able to research for the rest of my life, as well as teach in a program like the one I am in. This will allow me to continue learning for the rest of my life and share my knowledge with the future generation.

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