Dr. Aimee Surprenant is a professor at Memorial University who needs no introduction, because her track record of excellence precedes everything else. Dr. Surprenant is the associate Vice-President (Academic) and the Dean of the Graduate School at Memorial University since 2016. She holds a BA in Psychology from the New York University, and a PhD in Cognitive Psychology from Yale University. She subsequently completed a postdoc at Indiana University and proceeded on to Purdue University, Northern Indiana, where she worked for over a decade and was eventually promoted to Associate Professor. In 2006, she moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland to work at Memorial University.
The path to success is fraught with challenges, even more as a woman. When asked about her thoughts on encountering challenges particularly cause of her gender, Dr. Suprenant had this to say.
“I did a little bit. Probably not as much as someone in some of the other sciences with a higher percentage of men. Also, because Psychology is a lot more gender balanced. However, cognitive psychology is actually extremely male dominated, so I encountered this on some levels. A few examples surely come to mind, so yes, definitely.”
“In some academic groups where I have worked, I have definitely experienced this. But here at MUN, the atmosphere is so much nicer, and I am really quite pleased with that. In the past when it has happened, it wasn’t a good experience. I thought maybe the world has really moved forward when it comes to sexism, but who knows?”
Our world has become a global village, with diversity in every corner. In a world such as this, Dr. Suprenant is passionate about equal opportunity and access in the workplace.
“I used to think that diversity is welcome, but in the past year or two, I’ve actually stopped thinking that. It seems that in a lot of ways, a lot has been done, but then it still seems a lot more needs to be done. For instance, I’m reading a lot about diversity in graduate programs and, it is honestly depressing, because if we can’t even get sexism right, how can we tackle racism? And we’ve been working on it for, I don’t know, 40 years? When I was in graduate school, people were saying, there aren’t many female full professors, but that’s just because we haven’t had the time. I graduated decades ago, and even now there’s still more full professors who are male than female.”
Speaking on the active role she is playing, to get through this seemingly daunting task, she said
“I have to admit that we’re definitely not going to give up. I am working very hard on it and somethings Grad studies is committed to gender equity and equity in all of the senses. But it’s not an easy thing to do. “
Dr. Surprenant believes in making education accessible for all people. “Turns out that if you make the classroom accessible for people with disabilities, you actually help everyone. Similarly, if we make academics accessible to people who wouldn’t normally have access, we make it better for everyone. So, it’s this principle of universal design. In trying to help one group, we end up actually helping everyone. So that’s my goal. We’ll see how it works. It’s baby steps.”
When asked what word of advice or inspiration she would want to be remembered by, Dr. Surprenant’s words were these.
“My piece of advice would be to keep pushing. Keep that goal of yours in mind and don’t let anything get in your way. Sometimes you can’t go directly there, and you have to take a little bit of a detour. But keep that final goal in mind. The other thing, of course, is that if it turns out you get there and that’s not what you wanted then, that’s perfectly okay too.”