Heidi Engelhardt — BIOL 130 professor’s new dean appointment


Heidi Engelhardt, one of UW’s most beloved professors from the faculty of science, has just been appointed the Associate Dean for Faculty and Student Engagement. This new position confers the new responsibility of planning recruitment and outreach initiatives, and she has more than a couple of things in mind that she plans to implement.

Engelhardt is a true Waterloo veteran, having been here since 2006. She had originally started in a research-track position, but her already long career at that point meant she was long disillusioned with the initial euphoria of eureka moments and published papers. She was tired by the Sisyphean task of maintaining grants, but found that she increasingly enjoyed the teaching aspect of her job more and more. This would eventually lead to her pivoting into a teaching track in 2011.

Before all of this, however, her academic career actually started not too far from here at the University of Guelph where she majored in agriculture, focusing on animal science. She mentions this choice had come from her initial desire to become a veterinarian, and she held onto this dream until the summer of her second year. At this point, she had started working in a research lab — her first taste of academia. She enjoyed the work and environment and continued in the lab until the end of her undergraduate degree, and even stayed on once she decided to start pursuing a master’s degree.

After a successful thesis defence, a week before her marriage ceremony, she then moved to the University of Western Ontario to pursue a PhD in the department of physiology of the faculty of medicine. Engelhardt mentions she was set up to go to Columbus, Ohio for a postdoctoral fellowship, which was “scientifically quite a good match” for her. However, she had run into a Scottish research group conference that had just received Medical Research Council (MRC) funding. As the principal investigator (PI) had been a judge for a research day that Engelhardt had previously won, he was happy to offer her a postdoctoral fellowship in Edinburgh, Scotland if she was interested.

Engelhardt, like most of us would, ended up choosing Scotland. She enjoyed her time there, describing it as a place that’s “somewhat exotic and yet, still sort of English- speaking.” Engelhardt’s husband was luckily also able to take a leave of absence from his permanent position at Guelph to join her for a short time. After finishing up in Scotland, Engelhardt joined her husband back at Guelph and stumbled into a “soft-money research position.”

“It’s not a full-on faculty position,” Engelhardt clarifies, “but you can bring in grants that you can take a small amount of to pay your salary. And you know, the more you take to pay yourself, the less you have to do your research so it’s an interesting existence, very unstable.” She remained in this position for nine years, reaching what she considers to be the peak of her academic career in that time. After having a couple of kids, however, she mentioned wanting a permanent position. As Engelhardt puts it: “You don’t put all these years living on the poverty line to sing for your supper and pay your technician more than you’re making. At some point, you’ve got to get real.”

Engelhardt was able to find a tenure track position in western Manitoba, in a “very small university in a very small department.” The town, consisting of 45,000 people, was the second most populated place in Manitoba at the time. This was Engelhardt’s self-proclaimed “Professor on the Prairie” phase. She would remain here for four years, until an offer from UW came that she couldn’t pass up. The rest is history.

There is a lot planned in terms of new outreach and recruitment initiatives, and Engelhardt wants to flip the script by focusing more on students nearing the end of their undergraduate studies rather than those just coming in.

“Yes, starting university is stressful. But also, finishing university is stressful, because it’s now you’re supposed to know what you want to be… [I really want to connect] them with careers that they wouldn’t know about.”

Facilitating this connection would likely come from seminars and newsletters that Engelhardt hopes to organize and supervise in the near future once her teaching load is lessened correspondingly to compensate for her new responsibilities. Long-time students will be sad to hear that she will no longer be teaching BIOL 130 as of fall 2024. Do not despair, however, as BIOL 373 and BIOL 473 will likely still have her at the front of the classroom.

The student body congratulates Prof. Engelhardt on her new appointment and is undoubtedly waiting to see what she has in store for future and current Warriors.