Dean's update for Science alumni

Peter Loock

Greetings from Victoria,

Starting with the most important: I hope you are doing well, and you are coping with the pandemic as physically, mentally and financially healthy as possible.

I have been back on the West Coast for only a year and a half but I have already fallen into the habit of asking my Ontario friends if their cherry trees are also flowering yet. And, yes, I know it is annoying. I haven’t bought my Birkenstocks yet, but will do so soon. I refuse to wear them with socks, though!

With vaccines rolling out and the third (!) successful online term under our belts and while many of us might be feeling exhausted - spring is definitely in the air. Now that we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (it’s not another train – it’s a vaccine delivery truck), cautious optimism starts spreading across campus. There is talk about reopening the classrooms and labs and – dare I say it? – getting all students back on campus.  

It is difficult to overstate the enormous effort that went into delivering our programs online. My colleagues have been immersed in a world of Zoom, Brightspace, Slack and Teams. They have instructed courses with the help of many technical aids, and – more importantly – the wonderful support from our many teaching assistants. Some have placed cameras in teaching labs to deliver lab courses while others took their cameras into the field. They are an inspiration!

Not all courses were delivered exclusively online, though. About 10% of our courses had some form of in-person content, and students in these courses were on campus to study, e.g. in teaching and research labs. We spent a lot of thought on how to safely perform work in these in-person courses. Ultimately, over 200 safe workplans had to be reviewed and approved, and many were for courses.

So, how did it go?

Not too bad, actually – thanks for asking! After seeing record-breaking enrolment in our Summer term courses, we expected an enrolment drop in the Fall term, but neither the Fall nor the Spring term saw a change compared to previous years. Students have been largely sticking to their regular program schedule, and some have actually started to appreciate the new delivery format. In fact, more than one-half of our students think that we should retain some of the online-teaching aspects.

Our survey also showed that almost all students really miss the campus community, their friends, the ability to chat between classes, or just drop in with their instructors and TA’s. There is no question that this has been a difficult year for everyone. A university experience is so much more than a stream of lectures and labs.

And our professors and researchers? Well, some of the lab research work slowed down a little, but much of our scientific research has continued in some form – a testament to their hard work and dedication. As you can see in this newsletter, we have many reasons to celebrate the successes of our researchers, alumni and students. In this issue, we highlight the team of Julia Baum (Biology) who has been selected as our most recent President’s Chair. Her fascinating work on the unexpected recovery of coral reefs from bleaching events, gives very welcome reasons for optimism. Research in Colin Goldblatt’s group (SEOS) led to new insights on the effect of clouds in climate models. Their publication in Nature Geosciences was co-authored by Victoria McDonald, a former undergraduate student in Goldblatt’s group. She tells her story in this issue. On the more esoteric side: UVic physicist Art Olin is part of the ALPHA collaboration; they managed to hold on to antimatter using laser “tweezers”. This is not a small feat, since any time matter and antimatter collide with each other, both disappear, releasing E=mc2 in energy. The ALPHA collaboration has managed to suspend antihydrogen atoms using focussed laser beams and hope to soon address a question that keeps every Sci-Fi buff awake at night: does antimatter experience antigravity?

UVic Science is more than a group of individuals inside an ivory tower surrounded by a ring road on an island in the Pacific! Our Faculty consists of alumni and friends who are everywhere in the world (although probably not moving around much these days). Fritz Boehm is a close friend and supporter of our Faculty, a lifelong learner and driven by a deep curiosity in all matters of science. His story of student support and philanthropy is an example of how our alumni and friends remain engaged with UVic Science.

Within the Dean’s Office, we continue to create an environment in which teaching, learning, and research can thrive. Lydia Toorenburgh is our inaugural tri-faculty Indigenous Resurgence Coordinator and is tasked to help in us support our Indigenous students. Read her inspiring story in this issue. Our inaugural Associate Dean Research, Dr. Laura Cowen, reflects on her first months in her new position – especially with regards to the Faculty’s work on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI). Dr. Neil Burford has also joined out small team as Associate Dean Academic (Acting). Also, we have moved to our new Faculty Office in the Bob Wright Centre – not that anyone has noticed, since we are all mostly working from home.  

I hope that you stay in touch with your “family” at the Faculty of Science at UVic. Please take good care of yourself, and do not hesitate to drop me a line if you want to get in touch, have a concern, are thinking of getting involved, or just want to chat.


Peter Loock
UVic Dean of Science