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Simon Peacock is the dean of UBC’s Faculty of Science. Originally from the US, his research focuses on understanding the thermal, petrologic, and seismological structure of subduction zones — places on Earth where tectonic plates collide, triggering great earthquakes and explosive volcanism.
What quality do you most admire in a leader?
SP: The ability to inspire and bring out the best in everyone. Even though we are individuals, we are still part of a team. I prefer to lead from the “middle” — sometimes you need to lead from the front, sometimes you need to bring people together through compromise, and sometimes you just need to be in the room and watch great things happen. It’s important as a leader to help bring out the best in everybody.
What makes you laugh?
SP: Lots of things make me laugh. Irony, political satire, and administrative lingo. I am a big fan of the Dilbert comic strip. Even though it’s set in the business world, a lot of that humour translates into the academic world, like forming a committee to create a committee.
Who inspires you, and why?
SP: I am inspired every day by the people around me. We have incredible researchers across UBC, like Brett Finlay and Sally Otto, who inspire me by their achievements, by their creativity and passion, and by their giving back to our university. As a dean, I have the privilege of reading student evaluations — and I am inspired by our many incredible teaching faculty. Armed with this information, I wish I could go back in time and be a student again so that I could select and be taught by a science ‘dream team.’
What’s your biggest accomplishment so far at UBC?
SP: I would rather focus on the accomplishments of the Faculty of Science as a whole. I am proud to have seen our Faculty transform undergraduate science education to the point where UBC is now recognized as a world leader in this area. This was a collective effort involving hundreds of faculty members and I am proud of what we have accomplished together.
How do you like to recharge?
SP: I like to go for a run, two or three times a week. Even when the skies are grey, going for a run helps clear my mind, and I get a chance to enjoy the beautiful landscape on campus.
For you, what makes UBC different?
SP: Having worked for many years in the US, I have to say that UBC attracts outstanding faculty — without the accompanying ego. The biggest surprise for me was discovering the outstanding quality of our undergraduate students. UBC students are incredibly bright, engaged, and giving of their time.
What is the best advice you were ever given?
SP: When I first became a department chair in the US, my dean said: “Don’t postpone life.” At that time, I had two very young children and was unsure about taking on a major administrative role and balancing it with my home life. I have never forgotten his words and have tried my best to lead by example. I encourage my staff to go watch their child’s soccer game. And I encourage people to develop hobbies outside of work.
What do you value in your colleagues?
SP: Commitment to the greater good, teamwork, a sense of humour, and a willingness to challenge me.
What would you like to be remembered for?
SP: I hope to be remembered as someone who brought out the best in people – and hopefully some will say that I was fun to work with. I consider my department heads and faculty members to be friends as much as colleagues.
If you could have a super power, what would it be?
SP: This one is easy… time travel. My favourite movie is “The Terminator,” which is based around time travel. Sometimes I fantasize about travelling back to high school and doing things differently. As a geologist, I also explore the history of the Earth through rocks. Imagine being able to go back in time and see our planet’s history brought to life!
What do you think the potential is for the Faculty of Science at UBC?
SP: We have unlimited potential to be the best in the world, and in many respects we already are.