Wednesday October 2, 2013

Hi everyone,

It is with great pleasure that we would like to congratulate our Department Administrative Assistant and Grad Coordinator Debbie Dietrich on her 25th anniversary at Waterloo! Some of my colleagues who’ve worked closely with Debbie over the years wanted to share their thoughts on this happy occasion. Our chair Dave DeVidi writes, “It’s hard to believe that it has reached the stage where Debbie is one of only two people in the department who have been here longer than me. While she’s important in the work life of everyone in the department, I’ve probably had as much chance to work with her as anyone: she’s been a key administrator for 15 of my 17 years here, and I worked closely with her for the six years I’ve spent as graduate officer and the past 15 months as Chair. There are lots of good things to be said, but maybe it is appropriate to say again what I said to the Dean about her 25th Anniversary at Waterloo:

What makes Debbie so valuable to the department is the personal touch she brings to all aspects of her work, and the personal connections this has allowed her to make all over campus. Has some unusual situation come up? Debbie will know exactly who to call to help solve it, and will know the person on the other end of the line. Is a visitor coming to the department? That person will already like the place when they arrive, because they’ll have been dealing with Debbie to make arrangements. Generations of grad students have known just where to go for a problem solver and a sympathetic ear—not to mention generations of department chairs. We’re lucky to have her.

Our recent chair Tim Kenyon seconds this: “Debbie has adapted to many changes in personnel, policies, processes and technologies during that time; but her collegiality and warm professionalism have been constants. She was an invaluable supportive colleague to me during my time as Chair.”

Brian Orend also described Debbie as “invaluable” to him during his tenure as Grad Officer: “She helped bring me up to speed on a whole range of rules and processes, even in the face of a sea-change in procedures about grad funding. Together with the Committee, Debbie was instrumental in helping bring together the biggest incoming grad student cohort in memory. I feel that Debbie combines polished professional discretion with useful frank advice. She has always been a total pro: always getting the job done yet ever with a fun attitude and an approachable demeanour that makes everyone’s job easier. She has also, of her own generous accord, provided me with additional help in connection with International Studies over the years.”

Doreen Fraser, current Grad Officer, says “Debbie is not only the one who helps faculty and graduate students navigate paperwork and University regulations, but also someone who keeps on top of what people are doing outside of the University (with extracurricular activities, partners, and children) and who offers support which goes well beyond help with administration. Thank you and congratulations, Debbie!” I know from years working with Debbie that she brings to our Department an extraordinary ability — to combine the formal and administrative aspects of her job with a kindness and friendliness that makes our Department a warm and connected place. It wouldn’t be the same without you, Debbie. Thank you so much, and congratulations on your 25th!

In graduate student news, some of our MA students, Teresa Branch, Sandie DeVries, Marian Davies, and Jamie Sewell, have had a poster accepted for the 2013 Science and Society Conference in Ottawa. The title is “Scientific information, misinformation and disinformation: The perils of open access and trust.” They write in the abstract, “The aim of this research is to explore the relationship between how information is presented by ‘science authorities’ and the public. This relationship is fraught with concern from science communicators as to the best means to convey the information, the public and their ability to understand the concepts, and the social position afforded to science as the sole authority with which to accurately measure the world. With the exponential increase in available sources of information via the internet, it is becoming increasingly necessary for the public to be able to critically analyze these sources and discern what science is reliable in order to make informed decisions about science policy. By looking at the recent controversy surrounding the exhibition, Sex: A Tell-all Exhibition at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, we will explore 3 facets of science communication and the dissemination of knowledge. We will analyze the means with which the exhibit attempted to reach the audience, the inherent concerns regarding the authority of science on the topic, and public discussion surrounding the exhibit via the internet. This example, serves as a means of showcasing the challenges of publicizing science as well as ways to harness this intersection of ideas to acknowledge biases and create a more balanced and better informed public.” Congrats to all!

Heather Douglas writes, “This past Saturday (Sep. 28), I gave the Warren Steinkraus Lecture on Human Ideals at SUNY Oswego. I spoke about “Ideals for Responsible Science in Democratic Societies” and we had a wide-ranging discussion about the role of scientists, collective responsibility, dual-use research, and public interest science, among other things. I also got to enjoy lovely Oswego, situated on Lake Ontario, on a spectacular day, with my host and tour guide, Brad Wray.” Heather also passed along some great pictures:

IMG_7189-1 IMG_7194-1

Joe Novak presented a paper (“Sawyer and Consciousness”) at a conference entitled Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre. Joe says, “The conference was held at McMaster University September 13-15 2013 and it celebrated the donation of the papers of Robert Sawyer to the Library at McMaster which also houses the Bertrand Russell Archives. Robert Sawyer is probably the most significant SF writer in Canada; more information on him can be found at More information on the conference can be found at: I also attended the annual Medieval Philosophy Conference at U of T, held on September 20-21. This is an international conference featuring presentations by established scholars as well as some very talented doctoral students.”

Graduate student Rosalind Abdool and I together presented a paper we co-authored at The Pittsburgh Area Philosophy Colloquium. Our paper, “Utilitarianism, Intuitions, Rationality and Neuroscience,” challenged Peter Singer’s claims that neuro-scientific results were evidence for the rationality of utilitarianism over alternatives and argued on behalf of a pluralist approach. We had a great time meeting and talking with other Pittsburg area philosophers. Here’s a photo of us just after our talk:


Dave DeVidi has some serious thoughts about science and academic freedom. “On September 17,” he says, “I took part in a public town hall in uptown Waterloo that is the first public event in Get Science Right, an initiative by the Canadian Association of University Teachers to raise public awareness and discussion of “the public impact of the crisis in science and research policy in Canada.” About 50 people attended, and the event was filmed by one of the national current affairs program as part of an investigation they are doing of the issues we were discussing.

“The other panelists (Melanie Campbell, a physicist from Waterloo and Jeffrey Jones, a neuroscientist from Wilfrid Laurier University) spoke passionately about the harmful implications of the defunding of basic, curiosity-driven research for the long term interests of the country. Since they are both from STEM backgrounds, I raised issues of particular concern to the humanities and social sciences—such as the ill-conceived changes to Library and Archives Canada and the killing of the long form census, both of which will prevent Arts researchers from effectively doing the research that a democratic society will want to see done if its interested in intelligently governing itself.

“A major topic of discussion was the harmful effects of all the gag orders imposed at the federal level on government scientists, librarians and archivists, and others. Their harm to good democratic decision-making is obvious. But the climate of silencing and retribution has other side effects. It’s an alarming trend among university administrators to see their role in terms of “keeping the university’s message focused and positive,” including keeping research that runs contrary to government policy from gaining much publicity—which, to my mind, is a rather grave failure to understand what universities are actually for. Which will be the first university administration to try to put gag orders on their faculty of the sort government departments have put on their scientists? It may happen sooner than we think, so faculty should be on their toes and be willing to put a stop to it when someone tries.”

Upcoming activities:

Tim Kenyon says, “On Thursday I will be giving a presentation to uW Library staff outlining some of the common uses and abuses of research output impact measures. The title is ‘Research measures and rankings.'”

Don’t forget you can see more news and check out upcoming events at our Department website. Our Facebook group is now for anyone who wants to keep in touch — just send a request to join. And why not follow this blog by email? Just use the gadget on the right hand side!

As always, thanks for reading!

— Patricia Marino


One response to “Wednesday October 2, 2013

  1. I originally hired Debbie–so I guess I made the right decision.

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