Erica Thomson

Erica Thomson (she/her)
PhD Student
Department of Sociology
McMaster University

Current Research Project:

Environmental education: children’s agency in their climate futures

Through protests, sit-ins and community activism, school-aged children across different national contexts have demonstrated their passion for resolving environmental issues. This new generation is asserting their power and showcasing their potential to influence future climate action. My research seeks to understand how children conceptualize environmental issues and climate change and imagine their futures in regard to environmental impacts. This includes analyzing how children are learning about environmental issues through formal education and exploring the solutions they envision presently and in the future. Children have the ability to shape environmental futures on their own, as well as in partnership with parents, caregivers and communities. This research seeks to understand how education as a method of socialization positions children’s relationship to the environment. More specifically, my research is interested in how public elementary school students in Southern Ontario learn about environmental issues through formalized curriculum and how this learning process can be optimized to create environmentally responsible behaviours and mitigate future climate change denial.

This research seeks to answer the following questions: How do children learn, understand and think about environmental changes through Ontario educational curriculum? What solutions to climate issues do children imagine in their futures? Do they possess what Lisa Kretz (2013) calls ecological hope, or the desire for all life forms to flourish, as well as the environments and ecosystems that support them? How can children be an active part of climate discourse and solutions relevant to their everyday learning experience?

What motivated you to pursue this project?

I personally am very passionate about finding new ways to mitigate and adapt to climate crises. I also strongly believe in the power and salience of education as a way to introduce these topics to younger generations. As children are set to be the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, both now and throughout their lives, it is fitting that they have a say in how we approach these issues.  Beyond that, my interest in studying how children think through big concepts stems from over a decade of work with school-aged children and youth, where I was consistently amazed at their ability to exercise creativity, agency, and create innovative solutions. I strongly believe in their ability to contribute to conversations on climate change and solutions.

What has been the greatest challenge you have faced in your work?

Thus far, I think the most challenging part of my work is narrowing it all down (which I am still working on). As researchers, we have such an innate curiosity about the world around us, and it can be challenging to settle in on the specifics that are necessary to carry out a research project. I also struggle with time management and wanting to be involved with as many inquires as possible, which can sometimes pull my focus in too many directions. While curiosity can be a huge asset, I find myself needing to self-impose goals and milestones to prioritize important work.

What advice do you have for other graduate students?

I think my best advice is to remember that we’re all just doing the best we can. It’s easy to get caught up in imposter syndrome but know that everyone else feels the same way too. I’ve also found great solace in talking with friends and colleagues who are going through grad school at the same time. Finding a support system in each other is the best way to get through the not-so-good days and celebrate the great ones.


Thomson, Erica Fae, Link, Madeline, and Lank, Brittany. 2021. “Increasing Access to Quality Education” Public Report as a contracted researcher for the Regional District of Kitimat Stikine.

Simonetto D., Hannem,S., and Thomson, E.F. 2022. From Field to Family: The rippling effects of sports-related violence. Sports, Power and Crime: Toward a Critical Criminology of Sport, edited by Derek Silva and Liam Kennedy. UBC Press, in press.

This entry was posted in Student Spotlight. Bookmark the permalink.