Academic List-O-Gratitude

The fall semester has come to a close, and while I only had a few grades to submit for students doing independent study courses with me, it’s still nice to think that the next few weeks will be free and clear of any immediate academic responsibilities. This doesn’t mean I won’t be doing anything academic; it just means that any academic work will likely be partnered with a comfy blanket, a purring kitten, and a dram of scotch.

Honestly, it’s hard to believe that the fall semester is over, and truth be told, there were so many more things that I wanted to finish this semester than I actually managed to do. Fortunately, all of these outstanding things can and will wait until the new year.

And despite the fact that my to-do list isn’t quite finished, I can’t help but look back on the semester and year and feel extremely satisfied with what I was able to accomplish thanks to the efforts of the people with whom I work. I can’t help but feel extremely fortunate that I get to work with and learn from these people each and every day.

On that note, I thought I’d take a moment to create an academic end-of-year list-o-gratitude because I have so much for which to be thankful. Some quick notes: this is not meant to be an exhaustive list, it is not presented in any particular order of importance, and it may be heavily biased towards recent events.

Whatever the case, these are the things that have made my 2018 fantastic.

  • Almost every single month of 2018 has seen me celebrating the success of one of the undergraduate or graduate students that I get to work with1. From scholarships, to travel grants, and other awards and successes (both academic and non-academic), I get to work with students who continually impress and inspire me with their work ethic, their drive, and their commitment to using their talents to make our community better. They are nerds with heart, and I am so damn proud to work with them.
  • As has been the case throughout my academic career, I’ve been really lucky to work with students who don’t just say yes to whatever I propose. I work with students who challenge my ideas, my beliefs, and my ways of understanding the world – and while it might be sometimes frustrating as hell in the immediate moment – I value this type of exchange so much. I don’t want to work with drones. I want to work with students who teach me as much as they are hopefully learning from me. Without this, the work we do will suffer because it will be biased towards my understanding of the world.
  • Beyond my students, I’ve proudly watched as my colleagues, research partners, and friends have been recognized this year for their outstanding contributions to research, teaching, and public health. Getting to work with people who care as much as they do, and who work as hard as they do pushes me to always do the best I can. On that note, I want to say congratulations once again to all of my friends and colleagues who’ve been honoured this year for the work you do (including, but not limited to, Dr. Sherilee Harper, Dr. Shoshanah Jacobs, Dr. Gerarda Darlington, Dr. Jason Ernst, and Michele Wood).
  • While STEM-based research is often described as sterile and lacking emotion, I can’t help but feel like I’ve lucked out in the fact that I work with people who recognize the importance of relationships, culture, tradition, and humanity as core to the work we do. It has made the work we do somehow more intense and meaningful because we get to see the direct impact it has on our community partners. More than that, I’ve recognized how important this work is to me – how much my life has been enriched because I get to work with and learn from, for example, the community of Rigolet.
  • Regarding emotions – and maybe this is just me – but I’ve never experienced a year where so many of the conferences I attended moved beyond simply inspiring me on an academic level to something much deeper. The stories told by keynote presenters (and others) that often described ongoing injustices and abuses have been heartfelt, frustrating, and in many cases blood-boiling. Speakers have also described the resiliency and strength of communities that have faced and continue to face challenges due to colonial thinking, marginalization, and racism. At times it has been overwhelming, especially when I consider my own place in the colonial system. Mostly, however, these talks have reminded me how important it is to work on community-identified and community-led projects that are based in local knowledge and expertise, and that support self-determination and sovereignty. Further, it has reminded me that we must use our privilege as academics to change things.
  • While I’ve already mentioned the community of Rigolet in a previous bullet, I can’t help but include it on its own here. To say that Rigolet and the people who live there have a special place in my heart is a huge understatement. They have and continue to be incredible research partners and leaders in so many ways. They have opened their arms and homes to me and my students. They have gifted us with their time, their knowledge and their experience. And they have taught me so much about my place in the world, my place in relation to the land, and how important it is to protect the environment in which we live. I will never be able to truly express how much this community means to me, nor how much it has affected my life.
  • Travel has and always will be a passion of mine. That I get to travel as part of my job is still something that makes me smile, and makes me realize how lucky I am in the role that I have. This year, like many of the years since I began working in the School of Computer Science, has been full of travel, and much of it with students. It has been remarkable and exciting and has included visiting new-to-me places here in Canada, and around the world. I love that my job allows for this, and I love that I get to share these opportunities with students.
  • Last but not least, I have to mention my sabbatical. It is incredible how much this time away has meant and continues to mean to me. I’ve been able to rest and refocus, to catch up on things, and to begin planning and developing new ideas and projects. While I didn’t necessarily realize how much I needed the time away, I am so thankful that my job provides me with this type of opportunity.

Again, this list is by no means complete. It does, however, represent a small fraction of the things that have made this year what it was. And with any luck, next year at this time I’ll be looking back on 2019 with just as many things for which to be thankful.


1 Brandon Edwards (Jay Majithia Scholarship, Waterbird Society Travel Grant, Latornell Travel Grant, Bird Studies Canada Travel Grant), Keefer Rourke (Jay Majithia Scholarship, Emmanuel & Kalliope Salamelekis Scholarship, Major League Hacking Ethical Tech Initiative winner), Frazer Seymour (Co-op Student of the Year, Northern Science Training Program Grant), Nic Durish (Northern Science Training Program, Guelph Chamber of Commerce Young Innovator Awards, PSEER Travel Grant, SoCS Travel Grant), Michael Griffiths (Master Chef Canada 3rd Place Contestant), Jamey Fraser (Dean’s Scholarship, PSEER Travel Grant), Chris Katsaras (SoCS Teaching Assistant Award), Danielle St. Jean (OMAFRA HQP Scholarship), Jarrett Phillips (Dean’s Scholarship), Marshall Asch (SoCS 3rd Year Highest Average Award), Joel Gascho (PSEER Travel Grant).

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