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Message from the CMOS President: Planning for a Virtual Victoria Congress of 2021

– By Marek Stastna, CMOS President, and Professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics, University of Waterloo –

After a glorious stretch of humidity free summer weather, my southern Ontario summer literally ended with a bang. At around 5 a.m. on Sept. 7, lightning struck so close to my house that there was no count to be had between the lightning and thunder. The house shook for what felt like a minute, and both man and dog had quite a hard time returning to their slumber. I’ve always liked counting to get the distance of the storm, and I suppose over the years it has provided a link to a simpler, child’s view of the world: Inquiry as pure curiosity, knowledge as a security blanket against a large and intimidating world.

middle aged Caucasian man with parted brown hair and glasses outside smiling at camera
CMOS President, Marek Stastna

Since Sept 8th I have returned to teaching. I have spent the summer trying to hold the loose threads of my research group together with varying success. I have overworked and underworked, trying to make sense of working from home. I have also shared stories with the academic community of friends around Canada and beyond. My academic community has been mostly virtual long before COVID-19 inspired changes, and it has been a joy to participate in the sketch comedy of personal and professional lives with those who share my corner of the research Universe (and often my odd sense of humour).

However, there can be no denying the change all around us. Working from home has given me the separation necessary to re-examine some of my professional habits, but I am well aware that my rather comfortable experience is very different from that of others; particularly that of my students. Similarly, my uncertainty regarding the form of the upcoming high school experience for my younger child feels at times like the sound of that far off storm, but pales in comparison to the struggles of those juggling work from home and the care of multiple younger children. COVID-19 may have changed the world, but it has not altered its fundamental divisions and inequities. Ensuring full and meaningful participation by women in the work world will require firm, thoughtful engagement for years to come. Similarly, ensuring that the students we graduate, especially those at the highest levels, are not under-employed after graduation will require a significant break from the “why don’t you go to the US for a postdoc” business model that the Canadian academic system has been using for the entirety of my professional life. I am hopeful that academic societies like CMOS can provide a means to gather “best practices” from around the country, and promote the kind of local advocacy that can make our home institutions work toward a fairer “new normal” to return to.

CMOS itself, being a society with a virtual governance model, has continued to hum along in its yearly cycle of activities. The first Executive Meeting of 2020/2021 has taken place, and the first Centre Chairs and Council Meetings will soon follow. The primary task for Executive and Council in the coming academic year will be a revision and refinement of the CMOS Strategic Plan. In what I see as considerable wisdom, the authors of the existing plan, have identified areas that were left incomplete for those following in their footsteps. I encourage all members to provide input whether through informal discussions, or through the more formal survey that will arrive in members’ inboxes this fall.

Finally, I note that the planning for the Victoria Congress 2021 is well underway, and will build on the success of the Virtual Ottawa Congress of 2020. This year’s Ottawa Virtual Congress proved very popular, and next year’s Congress will have the benefit of a much longer planning cycle (one final tribute here to the Ottawa organizers for their grace under pressure!). A full schedule including plenary talks, oral and e-poster contributions, a public speaker, networking opportunities and space for exhibitors and sponsors is being put together by the Victoria LAC team, and I am very much looking forward to the event as a way of wrapping up what will be a busy CMOS year.

Marek Stastna
CMOS President, and Professor, Department of Applied Mathematics, University of Waterloo

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Centre Chairs, CMOS Strategic Plan, Marek Stastna, Victoria Congress 2021

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