A wicked northeasterly blizzard wiped out my efforts at blogging last week
January 27th, 2012

A wicked northeasterly blizzard wiped out my efforts at blogging last week. There’s nothing sweeter than waking up to these six magic words: Memorial campus closed for the day. I always feel happy as a schoolgirl whenever we have a “snow day,” even if it means my whole schedule is thrown askew for weeks afterward.

It’s January in Canada, after all, and anything can happen–usually does. I’m in Ottawa right now for some meetings, and there’s no doubt it’s January here. There’s nothing like the cold that meets your face in this brittle part of Ontario, whipping off the Ottawa River and gathering speed on the grim downtown streets. I spotted a few brave postcard-inspired skaters on the canal, but I shudder to think about what those winds might be doing to their toes. Maybe everyone here is simply used to it, the way I have become naturalized to the more temperate climate of Newfoundland.

Today the airport here also marked some strong signs of winter. At first I couldn’t figure out what hundreds of media and black-suited men with too much gel in their hair were doing there, all huddled and abuzz in a special spot in the arrivals section. But the banners hanging all over the airport reminded me that the annual NHL all-star game is scheduled in Ottawa for this weekend. My taxi driver was all excited, wanted to know if I saw any of the stars as they were getting off planes. I told him I couldn’t recognize any of them anymore without their helmets.

Winter in Canada is also consultation time. That’s why I’m here, destined for an overheated board room to talk about graduate students, and what we need to be doing to support them. Many of us have been engaged in a national dialogue on this topic for several months. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council is rolling up its third architectural renewal piece. We are now, as the beauty pageant host would say, ready for the talent portion of the program. Indeed, Talent is the name of the piece that has everything to do with grads and postdocs, and SSHRC has many of us asking all the right questions. These include how much scholarship support is appropriate for the twenty-first century; should there be more awards, or should funds be deployed to other initiatives that might, say, involve partnerships with not-for-profit and industry sectors; are we doing enough to prepare students for life both within and beyond academia; should we tie awards at institutions to time-to-completion rates; should we allow students to spread their awards over a longer (more realistic) period of research and writing; should we allow universities more control over the adjudication of awards or should we continue what has long been a kind of co-sponsorship by the university and SSHRC; should we insist that researchers define and be accountable to the real nature of training they include in their own research grants….?

You can see why consultation is necessary, if tedious at times. Had we a world enough of government funding most of these questions would be answered in the affirmative. It’s different when there likely won’t be more money to cover these wishes, and so some hard decisions need to be made about how to reallocate current funding envelopes. Without consultation and at least a measure of consensus, those decisions won’t have much credibility.

So it is that I am here in Ottawa, joining a bunch of colleagues to work through the snowy mountain of input and make some recommendations. With apologies to the Bard, the trick is to make this now the winter of our new content.

Dr. Faye Murrin is Dean pro tempore of the School of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor in the Department of Biology. She completed her B.Sc. (Hons.) at Memorial University, her M.Sc. at Acadia University, and her Ph.D. at Queen's University. Her research interests have always been focused on fungi, in particular the cell biology of insect pathogenic fungi and, more recently, the ecology of mycorrhizal mushrooms in the boreal forest. Dr. Murrin has served in a number of positions on the Council of the Mycological Society of America and was awarded the title of MSA Fellow for her contributions. She was awarded the Women in Science and Engineering Lifetime Membership Award as founding co-director of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Summer Program. Dr. Murrin participates in public lectures and workshops, and is a Director on the board of Newfoundland Foray, Inc.

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