By McGill Reporter Staff
Adding another chapter to its almost 200-year-old Convocation story, McGill will honour a trio of retiring professors this spring by awarding each of them the inaugural McGill University Medal for Exceptional Academic Achievement.
The McGill Medal was created to recognize retired members of the academic staff who have made extraordinary contributions to their discipline, to McGill or to scholarship, over the course of their academic careers. This year’s recipients are Albert J. Aguayo, Professor of Medicine; Adi Eisenberg, Professor of Chemistry; and Lawrence Mysak, Professor of Meteorology.
“We are setting an extremely high bar and this will be a particularly exclusive group,” said Provost Anthony C. Masi. “Indeed, given the criteria, just being nominated is itself a real distinction and winning a fantastic honour. Of course, having such individuals at McGill honours us all.”
Keeping tabs on his students
“I am very humbled,” said Mysak, Canada Steamship Lines Professor of Meteorology, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, at being named one of the inaugural winners of the Medal. “There are just so many good people here.”
Mysak came to McGill 24 years ago from UBC, where he had been a math professor for 19 years. Soon after his arrival, he was named founding director of the Centre for Climate and Global Research, a centre that focuses on integration among physical, biological and chemical processes that regulate the climate system, as well as their socio-economic impact. Today, Mysak is a member of the Global Environmental and Climate Change Centre (GEC3), which continues to play a leading role in global climate-change issues as well as providing input to the academic and public debate on environmental and climate change in Quebec, Canada and internationally.
Discussing his teaching career – which began at the University of Alberta when he was just 21 years old – Mysak doesn’t leave any doubt as to why he is so enamoured with the profession. “I am most proud of what my students have done and what they are doing today,” he said. “I keep a list and, to date, I’ve had some 80 grad students and post docs. Nineteen are professors in 11 countries around the world.”
When asked how the University has changed most over the course of his career, Mysak points to the people. “I thought McGill was a pretty great school when I came here, but it has gotten even better since then,” he said. “The criteria for hiring is very rigorous and the quality of appointments today really is excellent.”
Have fun and success will come
Aguayo got the news that he had won the McGill Medal from Principal Heather Munroe-Blum via telephone while he was in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “I was very touched that she would call me from such a distance,” said the award-winning neuroscientist. “It was a very humbling moment.”
Over the course of his illustrious career, Aguayo has made outstanding contributions in neural regeneration and repair that have potential major implications for the successful treatment of injuries to the nervous system that had been considered untreatable.
Joining McGill in 1967, Aguayo was director of the Centre for Research in Neuroscience from 1985 to 2000. Included among the numerous honours Aguayo has earned are being named an officer of the Order of Canada and receiving both the Killam and Gairdner awards.
But Aguayo is the first to acknowledge that none of his achievements could have been accomplished alone. “I wish it [the Medal] was large enough to hold the names of all the people that have worked with me over the years,” he said. “I really am proud that so much of my work was done in conjunction with so many good people.”
Aguayo quickly turned the topic of success into a discussion of enjoyment. “The most extraordinary thing of all about my time at McGill is how much fun it has been,” he said. “It is fun to work with these people; it is fun to work on these subjects; and it is fun to be part of the community that science provides.
“The Medal is just a symbol of how happy I am at having worked at McGill for all these years.”
Asked what he will do to fill his time during his retirement, Aguayo laughs. “Retirement? My status will change, but I hope to be doing just as much work the next day,” he said. “How do you retire from fun?”
The third recipient of the McGill Medal will be Adi Eisenberg, McGill’s Otto Maass Professor of Chemistry and one of the world’s foremost polymer chemists. From 1967, when he joined McGill, Eisenberg has taught thousands of students introductory physical chemistry and introductory and advanced polymer chemistry. Of the 35 doctoral students, ten master students, and 70 visiting post-doctoral fellows he has taught, many now occupy senior university and industrial positions. For many years, Eisenberg has been McGill’s top-funded NSERC Discovery Grant recipient.
Professor Eisenberg is in currently in China and was unavailable for comment.