As one of the top universities in Canada, McGill boasts top-notch professors—dedicated academics and researchers from all around the world. According to Gregor Fussmann, chair of the Department of Biology, as many as 200 candidates initially apply for a single tenure track position. From these, a search committee identifies a long list of around 25 applicants based on research excellence, publication record, and teaching ability. Around five of these candidates are then invited for an interview, and one is ultimately hired. This year, eight new outstanding professors joined the Faculty of Science.
A few of these professors shared exciting aspects of their research, the classes they will teach, life advice, and hobbies with The McGill Tribune, because they are people too. Although each of these professors has different interests, they all share a common passion for their research and a willingness to include the rest of the McGill community.
Assistant Professor Sarah Racine, Department of Psychology
Sarah Racine obtained her Honours BSc degree at McGill before continuing her studies in the US. She is thrilled to be back at her alma mater as a member of the Department of Psychology.
Racine’s research focuses on examining the risk and maintenance factors for eating disorders. According to a 2014 McGill Student Psychological Wellbeing survey, one to three per cent of McGill students struggle with eating disorders, and McGill has recently cut its Eating Disorder Program.
Racine’s research is therefore crucial for the students that fall within this percentage. Right now, she and a team of researchers are working on “a study in which [they] examine whether different emotional responses to food [can] predict different eating disorder symptoms.” If you hope to learn more about Racine and her work, she will be teaching PSYC 408, Principles of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, in the Winter semester.
Racine advises undergraduates to seriously reflect on whether or not going to graduate school is the right path for them.
“I suggest getting involved in numerous research lab[s] as early as possible in your degree […] and learn about the joys and hardships of graduate study and academia,” Racine said.
Outside of work, Racine enjoys Zumba and dance classes, visiting Montreal museums, and trying out the city’s amazing restaurants.
Assistant Professor Jessica Lin, Department of Mathematics and Statistics
Jessica Lin joins the Department of Mathematics and Statistics from the University of Madison—Wisconsin, where she pursued her postdoctoral studies. She specializes in “Stochastic Homogenization,” a discipline that uses both partial differential equations and probability theory.
“I’m interested in physical models which have microscopic, random effects,” Lin wrote. “Random effects certainly influence a physical system, and if those effects are sufficiently small, then I can say on average what is happening. [I] can build the right mathematical formulation to model a wide variety of ‘typical’ physical settings.”
Such random processes include how fires can spread in randomly positioned trees, or how conductive a metal can be with random deposits of rust. Lin described the department as a “great fit” for her research and particularly enjoys her colleagues, who have been helpful and welcoming since she has arrived.
Outside of McGill, Lin is an avid dancer, studying both ballet and salsa during the weekends. She advises McGill students to explore the University’s ample resources and what they have to offer.
Assistant Professor Carolina Dufour, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences
Carolina Dufour is a physical oceanographer, and has thus joined the McGill Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. Her research is particularly relevant in light of global warming. She studies the role of the Southern Ocean—the southern parts of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans that surround Antarctica—in the climate system and its response to climate change. Polar oceans such as the Southern Ocean are key regions for mitigating global warming.
“They take up significant amounts of excess heat and carbon released to the atmosphere by human activities,” Dufour wrote. “[At] the same time, polar oceans are experiencing very fast changes that are believed to continue over the next decades.”
To study the response of ocean circulation and the carbon cycle on climate change, Dufour uses numerical models. She will be teaching ATOC 182, Introduction to Oceanic Sciences, next winter.
“[I want to] share my passion about the ocean, […] as [it] plays such an important role in climate change,” Dufour wrote.
Dufour enjoys Montreal’s festivals, parks, and bakeries, as well as playing volleyball at a local club. She advises students to strive to achieve a good work-life balance and to relieve stress.
“Keep some room for [things other] than work in [your] life,” Dufour suggested.
Assistant Professor Matthew Harrington, Department of Chemistry
Matthew Harrington joined the Department of Chemistry at McGill from Berlin, where he led a research group in the Department of Biomaterials at the Max Planck Institute. At McGill, he continues to pursue the same line of research: Investigating materials made from biological organisms. He hopes to create new synthetic materials mimicking animal-made polymers’ sustainable properties. As an example, Harrington cited the velvet worm, whose slime can form into stiff, water-soluble fibers that, when dissolved, can then reform into new fibers from the solution—a perfect model for developing recyclable polymers.
For those interested in these topics, Harrington will teach CHEM 334, Advanced Materials, next semester. This class will focus on biological materials research and “smart” materials, which “respond in a programmed way to specific environmental stimuli.”
Harrington advises students to reach out to professors and urges them to interact with their profs and get involved in research.
“I was intimidated by the professors and didn’t want to bother them with my questions,” Harrington said of himself as an undergrad, “but now that I’m on the other side, I really appreciate it when a student shows interest.”
Outside of his career as a McGill professor, Harrington enjoys riding his bike, playing guitar and banjo, and eating poutine.
Assistant Professor Yann le Polain de Waroux, Department of Geology & the Institute for the Study of International Development
Unique among the other professors, Yann le Polain de Waroux is a joint professor for both the Geography Department in the Faculty of Science and the Institute for the Study of International Development in the Faculty of Arts.
Right now, le Polain de Waroux is researching deforestation, focusing on how large companies in South America “make decisions about expanding agriculture on forested land, and the ways in which we can better regulate this deforestation.”
He is also interested in what happens once deforestation has taken place in terms of how people adapt, move, or change their lifestyles.
Listening to experiences from people in deforested areas ultimately gives him a better understanding of how these people telling them relate to the land and to the rest of the world.
“[I love] the stories of all these different people,” le Polain de Waroux wrote. “Whether it is poor people in the mountains of Morocco […] or rich farmers in the Argentine pampas.”
Le Polain de Waroux will be teaching a new class this winter: INTD 497, a research seminar on international development, as well as GEOG 210, Global Place and People, and GEOG 310, Development and Livelihood.
Le Polain de Waroux suggests that undergrads not stress about doing things just for the sake of building a CV or resume; sometimes the most valuable life experiences come from unexpected places, such as travelling or random jobs.
Le Polain de Waroux enjoys Aikido and would be a Ravenclaw at Hogwarts.