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Sharpening focus

Killam program recognizes Memorial scholar for scientific and research excellence

By Jeff Green

Dr. Max Liboiron is getting the chance of a lifetime to focus on their cutting-edge research, thanks to receiving a high-profile academic award.

They are a 2023 recipient of a Dorothy Killam Fellowship, which supports leading mid-career scholars whose groundbreaking research aims to have a significant impact on a national or global scale. Recipients are released from teaching and/or administrative duties for the period of the fellowship.

“I was ecstatic because the Killam affords a quality of research life few other awards offer,” Dr. Liboiron told the Gazette.

“Rather than asking for more research and mentorship on top of existing teaching, service and research, it buys out your teaching and service so you have time to really dig into research and mentorship.”

Dr. Liboiron says the fellowship is kind of like a bonus sabbatical.

“Sabbaticals are when we really push our work into new areas because we have time to focus on something.”

On the forefront

The fellowships were created through the contribution of the late Dorothy J. Killam, who established a perpetual trust to support generations of scholars in Canada.

The work of recipients reflects one or more of the Killam attributes of being an inclusive collaborator, barrier breaker and research leader.

Fellowships are valued at $80,000 per year for a total of up to $160,000 for two years, which is paid directly to the university to cover the recipient’s teaching and/or administrative responsibilities.

“Now I can bring these together with the extra time afforded by the Killam into a project we’re calling Akihtam: Collaborative Indigenous Quantitative Methods.” — Dr. Max Liboiron

As a member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists and critically acclaimed author who has received several awards and honours, Dr. Liboiron is well-known within the Memorial and wider community for being at the forefront of plastic pollution research.

A Métis/Michif scholar and leading figure in feminist science studies, Indigenous science and technology, and discard studies, Dr. Liboiron’s work directly influences national policy for plastic pollution.

“I’ve been working on several different but related projects in Indigenizing statistics, justice-oriented lab methodologies, convening an international group of Indigenous scientists and doing partnered environmental science,” Dr. Liboiron explained. “But now I can bring these together with the extra time afforded by the Killam into a project we’re calling Akihtam: Collaborative Indigenous Quantitative Methods.”

Akihtam means “they are counting” in Michif.

The project is a collaboration with other Indigenous scientists and quantitative researchers to extend frameworks of Indigenous methodologies into quantitative methods common in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, including statistics and data visualization.

“All Indigenous researchers in the project have been claimed by their home communities and vouched for by at least one other participant to ensure the work happens in good relations,” Dr. Liboiron said. “Increasingly, research advocates for Indigenous and non-Indigenous co-management of resources, inclusion of Indigenous people in data-driven decision making and recruitment of Indigenous youth into STEM fields where quantitative literacy, and even fluency, is required for participation.”

They add that terms of literacy cannot be determined solely by Western models for just collaboration and that the Akihtam Project articulates and extends the existing, innovative, community-based practices of Indigenous scientists that are already being practised in Canada and the U.S.

Dr. Liboiron says receiving a Dorothy Killam Fellowship is a true team effort.

“I’d like to thank Ellen Steinhauer and the rest of the awards team for the extensive support they provided to make the nomination and application possible. I have no doubt in my mind that staff attention and expertise is what allowed my application to stand out and succeed.”

Inclusive researcher

Dr. Tana Allen, acting vice-president (research), says since joining Memorial in 2014, Dr. Liboiron has become one of Memorial’s most inclusive interdisciplinary researchers.

“Our entire research community is deeply inspired by Dr. Liboiron’s work as a scientist and changemaker,” she said.

“Through the generous support of the National Killam Program Awards, Dr. Liboiron will encourage a new cohort of researchers and the next generation of scholars, while building lasting relationships with Indigenous and community co-researchers. This is an amazing accomplishment. Well done, Dr. Liboiron, on receiving this marvelous honour.”

The Dorothy Killam Fellowship and the Killam Prizes comprise the National Killam Program.

More details about the National Killam Program are available online.


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