By Radu Craiu
Starting as department chair feels a bit like trekking into the uncharted wilderness of the Amazon rainforest. While you dream about the destination and the wonders you’ll discover along the way, the anticipation of myriad hazards lurking in the shadows, along with the unnerving sensation of plunging into the unknown, can be daunting. Thankfully, Jamie Stafford's generous transfer of knowledge allowed me to quickly understand the department's main pressure points: undergraduate enrollment numbers, the faculty-to-student ratio, an intense hiring season, a graduate program in need of expansion and diversification, and much more.
I must confess that the severe space constraint is the most nightmare-inducing of them all. It was with a great sense of relief that Jamie and I received news of a significant increase in space allocation. The move to the 4th floor of 700 University Ave will allow the reunification of all department members under one roof, which will have a positive effect on the health of our research, as well as our social and educational environments. Notably, this will bring our very successful MFI program closer, will add another dimension to their students’ graduate experience, and will allow all members of the department to take part in MFI professional activities. Have a look at the MFI program report to learn more. The fact that we will share the floor with the Master program in Applied Computing bodes well for the future expansion of our shared initiative, the data science concentration. The new space will provide us with much-needed lounge areas, multiple meeting rooms, modular classrooms which will allow us to host our weekly departmental seminar "in house", or even offer workshops and conferences. The proximity to research hospitals, the Vector Institute and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health is an additional positive aspect.
The space will host a newly created EDU, CANSSI-Ontario at U of T, that will galvanize data science-related efforts across the province and bring exciting initiatives and opportunities to our doorstep. Read more about the new CANSSI-Ontario.
The department has been lobbying for increased control over the enrollment in our undergraduate statistics programs. This year, our outgoing Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies Alison Gibbs, has obtained the approvals to have limited enrollment in our statistics major program. The full implementation will start in 2020 and is expected to alleviate the immense pressure on our teaching resources while significantly improving our students' learning experience.
Even with these measures, more faculty are needed to cover our teaching needs. The Faculty of Arts & Science is well aware of our large faculty-to-student ratio and has been supportive of our hiring efforts. In 2018-2019 we have conducted eight searches: one in risk management, one in statistical genetics and genomics, one teaching-stream position and five joint hires with psychology, computer science, astronomy and information science. We are very excited to welcome to our ranks: Gwendolyn Eadie (Astronomy), Elizabeth Bolton (teaching-stream), Chris Maddison (computer science and data science) and Silvana Pesenti (risk management). In addition to the four unfilled searches that were extended to 2019-2020 we have received approval to search for an additional five positions: one in data science, one teaching-stream position, and three joint searches with philosophy (data ethics), the School of the Environment (environmetrics) and computer science (data science with emphasis on computational finance).
Lei Sun, our outgoing associate chair of research, has coordinated our first Faculty Research Day at Fields in November 2018. A full day of talks, given by some of our faculty, has impressed the audience greatly with the breadth of topics and depth of thoughts. We are quickly transforming into a "Renaissance department", covering many, if not all, areas of expertise. As our faculty numbers increase and our research activities diversify, so should our graduate program.
Outgoing Associate Chair of Graduate Studies Zhou Zhou has started the re-assessment of our comprehensive examination procedures to welcome students with diverse strengths to our program. Incoming Associate Chair of Graduate Studies Lei Sun will finalize this process and investigate means to grow our graduate program, both in numbers and strength.
Our faculty and students continue to garner awards and recognitions. Have a look at this year’s “Wall of Fame”.
As illustrated above, the department's success is a group effort. Faculty, staff and students have all contributed to our collective journey onwards and upwards. I am lucky to have such formidable fellow travellers and want to thank all who have contributed to searching for brilliant new colleagues, writing papers, teaching classes, solving logical and logistical problems, keeping the "lights on", and making or spreading the news about who we are and what we do.