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Letters to the editor

 

Sex and supervisors

Certainly, when a faculty member is supervising a student in some way, whether teaching a class, acting as a thesis adviser, or overseeing students working in their lab, any sort of romantic or sexual relationship should be banned (“Should sexual relations between professors and students be prohibited?” February issue). The faculty member simply has too much control and influence over that student’s grades and career for the student to freely consent.

This does not mean there will be “morality police on campus to keep an eye on faculty,” as Jean-Marie Lafortune fears. It means that if such a relationship occurs, or is attempted, the student can report this behaviour to whatever ethics board already exists and there can be actual consequences for the faculty member, as they will have violated university policy. (Yes, the burden falls on faculty to control themselves – they are the ones with power in this situation, and if they can’t use that wisely, they do not deserve the position.)

For those who think this will somehow ruin what could be beautiful relationships: if two people are that much in love, they can find a way to sever the professional relationship. The student can take classes or be advised by a different professor, or the professor can work in a different capacity or at a different college. People make professional choices all the time based in part on their significant other’s career and family circumstances. This is no different.

Professors are professionals, and should keep their relationships with students professional (this can be warm, and even friendly, but there are lines you do not cross). If a professor fails in this capacity, they are failing as educators, and yes, there should be consequences.

Karen Poole
Dr. Poole is an instructor of anatomy in the school of medicine at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York.

From basic to applied

I got my start in research at the National Research Council labs on Sussex Drive in Ottawa in the early 1970s when I was an undergraduate student at Carleton University (“National Research Council lays out a four-year reform plan,” February issue). Working with Mak Yaguchi, I did research on ribosomes, the complex cellular machinery that makes all the proteins in cells. It was basic research trying to figure out how ribosomes did their job, and we published the results in a peer-reviewed journal. But, the overarching goal of the research was applied: how do bacteria that live in hot springs or in very salty water adapt their cellular machinery, like ribosomes, to their harsh environment?

The NRC did this research because industry was interested in using bacteria or bacterial products under similar harsh conditions. We found that only small modifications to the genes of bacteria could render their proteins heat-resistant. Thermo-stable enzymes are now widely used in food processing and the pulp and paper industries. So, basic research decades ago can lead to applications today.

Reinhart Reithmeier
Dr. Reithmeier is a professor of biochemistry at the University of Toronto.

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