Professor of medicine. PhD in human factors engineering. Living with type 1 diabetes. Infrequent blogger.


This week I advanced to the rank of professeure titulaire, which translates as full professor. For reference, because the translations are confusing across English and French and I routinely run into people who have trouble with the confusion, I will use this opportunity to clarify:

professeur.e assistant.ea rank below assistant professor (does not exist in most English institutions)
professeur.e adjoint.eassistant professor
professeur.e agrégé.eassociate professor
professeur.e titulaire(full) professor
professeur.e associé.eadjunct professor
professeur.e émériteprofessor emeritus or emerita (Latin for the win … this is the only one that translates easily)

I wrote a very long post when I got tenure. This time, I haven’t been writing out my thoughts and feelings along the way, so I have less to say. It’s been a bit of a hard time leading up to this milestone. Five members of my team had to grieve the loss of close family members (parents, grandparents) during the pandemic. My neighbour lost her sister to Covid. We lost a member of our extended family. It has been a time with a lot of grief and loss. On a less tragic but still difficult scale, my husband was furloughed (meaning we lost his income) and other family members lost their jobs/income.

Beyond these losses, I’ve found it difficult to be a younger person at risk. According to the available statistics, at age 45 with my chronic conditions, I’m at roughly a similar level of risk as a person in their 60s with no comorbidities. I don’t think I will ever recover from having it lit up in neon for me that a lot of people I liked and respected don’t care about all of us who are vulnerable. Some don’t even acknowledge the existence of younger vulnerable people. This has really complicated academia for me. I don’t trust people as much as I used to. Even though I knew academia is ableist—I wrote about that when I got tenure—I naively thought that people who talk a big game about equity would show up when they were truly needed. In too many cases, I was wrong. I feel foolish for being naive.

Countries that report such data reveal an incredibly disproportionate impact of Covid on people with disabilities/health conditions. In England, 60% of deaths have been among disabled people. In Canada, 90% of COVID deaths during the first wave were among people with at least one medical condition. Quebec, where I live, reports statistics weekly by health status. As of June 1, 2021, 97% of Covid deaths in Quebec have been among people with at least one comorbidity [data are presented in French only]. Despite this clear risk factor, across Canada, disabled people have generally not been prioritized for vaccines at a level appropriate to our elevated risk.

Covid has revealed horrible ageism, along with racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination, but a telling quote in a major Canadian national newspaper showed how ableism can transcend age groups:

“Would it be such a bad thing if the virus culled the population of the old & infirm?” our friend asked rhetorically.

“Wouldn’t that include you,” I interjected, pointing out that we had celebrated his 80th birthday the previous September.

“But I am not infirm,” he shot back.

From Sandra Martin, “The way we’ve treated seniors during the pandemic is shameful” paywalled Globe and Mail article, Mar 12, 2021

Almost none of the thinkpieces about academia and the pandemic mention the realities of academics who themselves have disabilities or medical conditions or who care for family members who do.

Anyway, I don’t really have much in the way of new lessons learned to offer since my tenure post. A few things have changed. I did get nominated for a Canada Research Chair, and—thank you, external reviewers, whoever you were—the nomination was approved.

I’ve published a lot more papers. I ticked past the count of 100 on PubMed. In retrospect, I should have celebrated or something. I was too tired to mark the moment. I’m proud of many of them, and some of the papers have been very impactful. Knowing that my work makes a difference is a good feeling.

I no longer schedule tasks on my calendar because it just got too unwieldy, but I still use a spreadsheet, time estimates, and struggle to contain my optimism about how much I can accomplish in a given amount of time. I am considering establishing a ‘committee of no.’

I have given up on ever managing my email in a way that pleases everyone, including me.

I enforce boundaries slightly better than I used to but I still haven’t found a way to submit good grants or papers without devoting evening and weekend time.

I still have to allocate my time between health, family, and career, and that means trading them off against each other. There just isn’t enough time for everything, and that’s just how it is. I still have additional constraints because of my chronic illnesses. A typical example was when, a few years back, I didn’t submit a letter of intent for a grant opportunity that would have been a perfect fit for my research program because I was devoting my evening and weekend time instead to assembling a do-it-yourself artificial pancreas on my dining room table, tweaking the software, troubleshooting hardware and software issues, learning how to use the system, and calibrating it to suit my body. I really wanted to submit the letter of intent as well but there just wasn’t enough time to do a good job of both, so that time, I decided to prioritize my health. Sometimes, I go the other way. 

I went up for promotion the same way I went up for tenure—full-tilt, the earliest moment I could. I was not in a great place to do that in the middle of a pandemic but I have learned that the way for me to be in academia is to just suck it up and push through as best as I can. I’m pleased to have gotten the promotion. I feel good about my part in making it happen, and I am also acutely aware that my part was only a portion of what went into it. I’m grateful to my family, colleagues, mentors, letter writers, and the people on my team with whom I have the joy of working. I remain committed to doing what I can to do good work, fulfill my responsibilities, and leave academia better than I found it.

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