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This week at UQAM - and at McGill in 2006!
This week, some 6,000 people have gathered at the Université du Québec à Montréal to participate in the 72nd edition of the congress of Acfas, or l"Association francophone pour le savoir. More than 160 McGill researchers - graduate students, postdocs and faculty members - are involved in presentations. By the end of the day tomorrow, there will have been more than 3,500 scientific communications, in French, on topics from geology to education, as well as discussions on research issues such as science journalism and grantsmanship.
These intensive five days represent long months of organizational work on the part of the host university, the vast majority done on a volunteer basis. When McGill hosted the Acfas congress for the first time back in 1996, there were literally hundreds of volunteers involved in everything from managing logistics, fundraising and communications, to setting the scientific agenda for the event.
So it is by no means too early to start spreading the word: McGill will be hosting Acfas again in May 2006!
There are many good reasons for McGill researchers and the university as a whole to play an active role in the annual congress, says Vice-Principal (Research) Louise Proulx, president of Acfas 2006.
"Hosting Acfas is one concrete way for McGill to demonstrate that it is strongly rooted in the Quebec community," says Proulx, who will announce the president of the congress' scientific committee in the coming weeks.
An informal poll of McGill participants in this year's edition generated enthusiastic responses.
Michel Tremblay, director of the McGill Cancer Centre, is a big believer. "For McGill, what is important about Acfas - since we have a relatively high number of French-speaking researchers - is that it provides an increased link to the French university community," says Tremblay. And that means not only our neighbours at UQAM and Université de Montréal, but also researchers from Ottawa, Moncton and even further afield (there are invited speakers from France and Belgium, for example).
"It's also the only venue that covers [disciplines ranging] from social science to fundamental science," Tremblay points out, adding that not only are these disciplines meeting at the same time, but they are also often together in the same room, in colloquia on interdisciplinary topics of major social relevance.
Alain Breuleux, who teaches in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, says he considers the Acfas congress "an important manifestation of the French-speaking research community in the province.
"I strongly feel that I am a member of that community in spite of the fact that most of my regular professional activities take place in English," says Breuleux, adding that "Acfas is a particularly important venue for francophone graduate students: it offers in most cases their first opportunity to speak in public about their work in progress and to connect with like-minded scholars."
James Lund, dean of dentistry, also sees the Acfas conference as an exceptional opportunity for his graduate students, many of whom are francophone. He has also participated on several occasions himself; this week, for example, he has given poster presentations with students and colleagues from UQAM and the Université de Montréal.
For Jo Ann Lévesque, director of the Research Office of the Faculty of Arts, the Acfas congress is a place where we can build better bridges with francophone researchers - something McGill needs to do in the human sciences, especially. Lévesque, who holds a PhD in Education, also attends Acfas to support her own ongoing research in teaching methodology of research. Finally, participating in Acfas advances her primary goal at McGill: to help researchers write successful grant proposals.
The question of language aside, the opportunity to exchange at Acfas with other local researchers can be invaluable, as is noted by many McGill delegates.
Rod Macdonald of the Faculty of Law believes that "Acfas is the best chance to speak to scholars and researchers in Quebec working in similar fields. It was especially good for me this year because the two subjects I spoke about (multicultural identity and aboriginal economic modernity) have local implications, for Montreal and Quebec."
Similarly, Charles Lin of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences says, "Acfas provides an opportunity to inform the Quebec community of our work on climate variability and change. This is particularly relevant as I am involved in OURANOS, the Quebec consortium on regional climate change and impacts."
Yvan Lamonde of the Department of French Language and Literature notes that the annual event, which dates back to 1933, has enjoyed renewed energy in the last decade or so. There is a potential downside, he cautions: The variety and sheer volume of scientific presentations proposed means that the host university faces a major quality control challenge.
For McGill to meet the challenges of Acfas 2006, widespread participation of faculty, staff and students will be required. If you want to make suggestions or volunteer to be part of the team, please write to Louise Proulx c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.