Interview with Moyra McDill, Chalmers new Doktorandsombud (DOMB)

Chalmers new DOMB, Moyra McDill, Professor Emeritus  from Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada) and outgoing Commissioner of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission standing in front of the full-scale reactor mock-up developed by Ontario Power Generation for the purposes of training for refurbishment of four CANDU reactors at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station.
Chalmers new DOMB, Moyra McDill, Professor Emeritus  from Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada) and outgoing Commissioner of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission standing in front of the full-scale reactor mock-up developed by Ontario Power Generation for the purposes of training for refurbishment of four CANDU reactors at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station.

Moyra McDill, Professor Emeritus from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, took over as the Doktorandsombud (DOMB) at Chalmers in December. Myra is continuing the work of Bengt Stebler, who retired as DOMB after 10 years of service.

The role of the DOMB is to help individual PhD students with problems that may arise in the course of their research or employment. The DOMB is employed directly by the DS board and is hence independent from the university and a neutral party for the support of PhD students. Every PhD student, both those employed by Chalmers and industrial PhD students, can seek the DOMB´s guidance with any work related problem, big or small. The DOMB´s contact information can be found on the DS webpage under “support for PhD students”. 

Here you can read our board member Ragnar Lárusson’s interview with Moyra McDill:

Where you are from originally and where did you grow up?

I grew up in rural Ottawa, the capital of Canada. I was the youngest of four children, with a river to swim in, in the summer and to skate on, in the winter.  Dad, a military mechanical engineer and Mum, a science teacher, would probably say I was born into engineering since I grew up in a house they designed and were building.  I quite literally had my little feet in wet concrete. In terms of things mechanical, as a teenager, it was my job to remove the mower and install the snow blower on our garden tractor – along with cutting the grass and clearing the snow.

Can you tell us a bit about why you became an engineer and then your path towards your academic career at Carleton University in Ottawa?

 In high school I was a rather good hurdler but I settled on mechanical engineering in my final year. During my undergraduate years, I was fortunate to have both informal mentors and summer research jobs at the university.  A master’s in materials followed. With that, my husband, a former lab partner!, and I headed first to the east coast of Canada and then back to central Canada where we worked as engineering analysts. A recession and looming unemployment provided the impetus to take our PhDs in mechanical engineering.

I have had some marvellous and unexpected opportunities. One of those was a term contract at Carleton before I finished my PhD. That led to a position as an assistant professor.  Later, I had the chance to spend part of my first sabbatical in Luleå as a visiting researcher.  My husband and I, and our nearly four-year-old daughter, truly enjoyed our time in Luleå.  We even made a trip to Chalmers to give seminars. We became colleagues and friends with a number of people in Luleå and Chalmers and we had a number of occasions to visit Sweden again.

 The year after our time in Sweden, our twins were born! It took a while but life settled down a bit. Unfortunately my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour. I found myself, a few years later, a full professor in mechanical engineering but widowed and with three young children.  As you might guess, more adjustments had to be made. Another unexpected opportunity was my appointment to the Tribunal portion of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), which is Canada’s regulatory body for all things nuclear. For a mechanical engineer, this was super cool stuff!

Why and when did you came to Sweden and how do you experience Sweden?

I believe the correct Swedish response is, “för kärlek”.  To make a long story short, five years ago I married a Swedish professor, also widowed.  With my youngest two heading for university and my older daughter launched into adulthood, I took early retirement and I moved here three years ago.  I continued to return to Canada regularly, for my work with the CNSC and to see my family.

Sweden is just similar enough to Canada to make the adjustment comfortable – the two countries have more than snow, moose/elk, the outdoors and hockey in common!  Since arriving I’ve kept busy as a visiting lecturer (Högskolan i Skövde) and visiting researcher (Chalmers).  Recently my term with the CNSC came to an end and I decided it was time to take on something new, here in Sweden.

Why did you want to become DOMB and what experience you have that makes you a good DOMB?

Actually, I stumbled on the advertisement for the position on the Chalmers website. It looked interesting and was a good match to my personal experience and my experience with student advocacy particularly as Dean’s Advisor for Women in Engineering, Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies in my department and a member of the faculty-level Committee on Admissions and Studies. I thought it could be something that I could do that would make a positive difference for the doctoral students at Chalmers.

 How you are settling in your new role so far and what is your outlook?

 I was fortunate to be able to talk to the outgoing doktorandombud Bengt Stebler and to Göran Nyman who was on duty in the fall of 2015. Both were helpful in describing the position and the kinds of issues that would arise.

There is a need for an independent person to be available for everything from just simply listening, to providing informed guidance and to representing the student, especially in those meetings where the student’s future is on the line.

What is your vision for, or ideas about, the DOMB role? 

 I would like to interact with the Doctoral Students Guild to see how the issues I encounter can be addressed so the doctoral students can better focus on their studies and research.

 Also, I have become active in the Swedish network for doctoral student representatives. This will help me put my experiences in a national perspective.