Journey Through Academia with Dr. Frances Aboud
Dr. Frances Aboud is a professor in the Department of Psychology within the Faculty of Science at McGill University. Initially, she studied how young children developed, acquired and developed prejudice and how school programs could help promote more tolerance. Following sabbatical leave, Aboud got involved in studying in low and middle income countries, studying our child’s health, growth, and mental development. Over the years, she has sharpened her skills and applies it now to help children and parents around the world.
“I’ve gotten to work in great places like in Kenya, Bangladesh, India, Zambia, Ethiopia, and Uganda.”
Describe your educational background
I first went to school at the University of Toronto for my undergraduate in psychology and then I applied to Graduate School, got into three different places and decided to go to McGill. My first job was in Washington State and then I got a job at McGill. I’ve been there ever since for many years.
What are you most proud of in your career?
That’s a hard question for me to answer because if you’d asked me every five years what I was, it would be sort of something recent, right? Training students is a really great feeling working with them, seeing them publish really good research, and then taking off.
Additionally, working within teams of people in different places has always been a really exciting endeavor. Even the simplest things like when you’re just sitting in your own department, you know you have a little research group with graduates and undergraduates and some other professors and that sort of makes it lots of fun.
I suppose I could say I’m proud of every good piece of research that I’ve done. I don’t like hanging in there with low bar research or stuff that I don’t think is so important, so I don’t really spend a lot of time on that, so it just means I’m proud of most of the stuff I do.
“When I encounter a failure in research, I just spend a lot of time thinking about it and working, working on it, I’m just sort of that kind of achievement oriented that I just keep thinking and working.”
What is the best piece of advice you’d give a young student starting out in academia?
Somebody gave me this advice and I have passed it onto others and the advice is, that you need to have several studies percolating at the same time because some of them will work out and some of them won’t. You can’t put all your efforts just into one thing. Have some things that are simple, straightforward, boiling away on the front burners, and a few things that are kind of high risk. You know they may not pan out with anything very interesting, but if they do, they would be absolutely great. Have projects on the back burner that you’re keeping your eye on, but you’re not you know pushing, pushing too fast you’re letting them develop nicely. We must always have hopes that something great will eventually come out of them.
How has belonging to a minority group shaped your research career?
It’s made me more sensitive in the best way possible. For example, when I’m meeting with a research group where there are all different kinds of people that’s working on something, I’m a lot more sensitive to these sorts of microaggressions that are expressed by people. You can see how microaggressions affect the contributions of other minority people in these meetings. Now I might recognize them and either decide just let it go, or not let it go now, but when I see somebody else maybe who’s younger, not quite knowing how to handle it, and sometimes I’ll actually say “you know her comment was really very good and you kind of dismissed it, so maybe we should hear from that person again with what they meant by it.” I just realized that I have to say something publicly when things like this happen. They often happen in these group meetings because a lot of people aren’t thinking about it; They’re not very mindful of the way they’re dismissing other people, so somebody has to stand up so no good idea goes unheard.
When you are not at work, what do you like to do?
I definitely like to read novels and I definitely like working in my vegetable garden. I’m growing stuff like basil, tomatoes, lettuce, kale, and peppers. I also grow some flowers because the bees like them. I got myself a new pair of these great skate ice skates that they have these days. So I go to this place where there’s a 5 kilometer path of ice and skate in the winter. I love that.