Living out of a suitcase for so many good reasons

It is only 4:00 am (Pacific time) on this chilly Sunday morning, yet I am surrounded by many of British Columbia’s academic elite. Actually, we are flying back home from Ottawa, all eager to get back early enough to catch a few weekend hours with our families. VPs, colleagues, and friends were all attending the 2011 induction ceremony of the Royal Society of Canada. At least it was a party and not the usual Ottawa committee meetings that West coasters learned to love and hate. But my own marathon had started a week earlier.

It is 8:00 am on Saturday, the 19th of November. I am about to chair the meeting of the scientific panel of the Banff International Research Station (BIRS). Colleagues from all over North America came to participate in the selection process of the 2013 scientific program. We have one day to find our way through 155 proposals, 780 reviews, and thousands of pages of submissions and material. Yaël cannot believe that we will finish the job in one single day, but thirteen hours of meetings later (including meals), we are done. We might need 2 days for next year’s competition though.  I am now supposed to attend another function. Forget it. I want to get some sleep before my trip tomorrow.

Sunday 20th. It is midnight in Toronto and I am worrying about how to wake up at 4:00 am (pacific) on Monday morning to chair a groundbreaking meeting at the airport’s Hilton. Toronto’s Pearson airport seems to be the center of gravity of this vast country.

I had asked –as director of the Mprime network—more than 25 leading Canadian mathematical epidemiologists, biologists, physiologists, and ecologists from coast to coast, to meet so as to try to jumpstart a national initiative in “mathematical biology”.

Canada needs a coherent and well-coordinated vision in this hugely important and still emerging field. The country also needs a concerted national research effort for developing mathematical models to analyze and describe dynamical and mechanistic aspects of biological and environmental sciences. Sophisticated quantitative methods, with an emphasis on predictive modeling,  are also required to understand the evolution of, and hopefully prevent, disease.

Conviction, commitment, determination, enthusiasm, and leadership were all there. I am optimistic. If successful, this exhausting meeting may eventually be remembered as a historic day.

Monday, 6:00 pm. I have a huge headache, probably from the daylong meeting in recycled air. A great walk from my hotel –now in downtown Toronto– to the McCann’s new home, brought relief, a great dinner, as well as terrific news from their home front. Robert needs to teach me more “mathematical economics”.

A little bit of free time on Tuesday morning, so let’s finish this blog entry. Yes, it is time to light a fire under my colleagues and the UBC administration. The situation of the mathematics buildings is becoming ridiculous.

A useful working lunch with Nancy, a longtime friend who is currently leading the effort to prepare an NSERC commissioned  “Long Range Plan” (LRP) for Mathematics and Statistics. Then, back to back meetings all afternoon: former students, director of the Fields Institute (LRP, Mprime, Math-bio, Centre for quantitative medicine, etc…). Finally, a great dinner with friends, colleagues and fellow blogger Jim Colliander. So much to talk about.

Again, I have a little bit of free time on Wednesday morning. I guess my friends are conscious of the time lag and are sparing me the morning hours. It is a good opportunity to write a follow-up blog post to tell my colleagues the little I know about how to get started in their quest for a new departmental building.

A great “dumpling” lunch with a dozen of friends, colleagues and former students. My “Applied Math colloquium” at the Fields Institute went well, even though I didn’t pronounce the word “Laplacian” once. Pretty tolerant bunch!

Off to Montréal on Porter airlines. I can’t miss my flight as half-a dozen of my friends are waiting to take me to “Damas”, the restaurant, not the civil war. It seems to be the latest craze in Montréal’s large inventory of mid-easterner restaurants. Fabulous meal. Thanks Jacques, Luc and Rustum.

Checking-in at my hotel in Montreal was surreal. I landed on exactly the same hotel and on the same room that I had around the same time last year. But that’s exactly where I was picked up a year ago by an ambulance for emergency care. Eerie feeling. Actually, I am back here in Montreal to give the lecture that I couldn’t make last year at the “colloque of the ISM” (Institut des Sciences Mathématiques). Lots of “Laplacians” in this talk.

But that’s not before Thursday’s meeting with the Directeur of the CRM (Centre de Recherches Mathématiques) “et les directeurs-adjoints” over a catered lunch in his office. I love it here.

Thank goodness, Christiane drove me and my bulky suitcase (by now full of dirty laundry) to McGill. A double-header with Louis Nirenberg? How unfair.

An extremely nice young French mathematician offers to walk me to the Train station and help me with my suitcase. For once, a Frenchman who doesn’t talk about how much he prefers his home country, not even its “cuisine”. The train ride to Ottawa could be described as an abbreviated version of the “Orient Express”, without the murders and all that stuff.

Friday and Saturday are dedicated to Mitacs’ Board meetings, including an extended strategic session: the kind I like, especially with so many new smart people around. Stimulating!

It is now 4:30 pm on Saturday afternoon and I have to rush to the induction ceremony of the Royal Society of Canada. Louis Nirenberg, my friend, my mentor, my nominee, and one of the reasons I am in Ottawa got the longest round of applause, and deservedly so. I am proud.

Louis was being inducted as a foreign fellow, even though he was born in Hamilton, raised in Montreal and educated at McGill. Forget about the “rubber chicken” of the banquet, and let’s go celebrate in some decent restaurant across the river.

There is indeed a special cause for celebration. More than 30 years after his election to the US National Academy of Science, to the Academie française, to the Russian, etc…. Louis Nirenberg got finally inducted at the age of 86 to the Academy of his own native country. This is not about “standards”, folks. He is getting inducted to the Belgian Royal Academy next January.

6:00 am (central) on Sunday morning at Ottawa’s airport. I spot in the distance John Hepburn, our VP-Research,  with his hat of a “Raider of the lost ark”. My urge to moan about living out of a suitcase suddenly disappears.

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1 Response to Living out of a suitcase for so many good reasons

  1. Pingback: Weekly Picks « — the Blog

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