UBC prof Suzanne Simard named in Time’s ‘most influential’ list

UBC prof Suzanne Simard named in Time’s ‘most influential’ list

When Suzanne Simard heard she was going to be named one of the 100 “most influential people” in the world on Wednesday, she had a hard time believing it at first.

The Finding the Mother Tree author, who was included in Time magazine’s annual list alongside a handful of fellow Canadians, said she wondered whether her inclusion was real or not.

A University of B.C. forestry professor, Simard’s research on how trees communicate with one another in forests has gained her global acclaim, and even a mention in the the Apple TV+ show Ted Lasso.

While her moment of fame on that series surprised her at the time, Simard said being on the Time list feels particularly important.

WATCH | B.C. forest scientist Suzanne Simard makes Time’s annual 100 ‘most influential’ list:

B.C. forest scientist Suzanne Simard makes Time’s annual 100 ‘most influential’ list

University of B.C. professor Suzanne Simard, author of Finding the Mother Tree, speaks to Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC’s On The Coast, about the experience of being among a small handful of Canadians included on Time magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People of 2024’ list.

“Time’s recognition is a big deal,” she told Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC’s On The Coast. “It’s a huge surprise and I’m so chuffed by it. 

“I was so shy as a kid, I could hardly even speak even to my family. Then I became a public speaker and communicator, and I’m just so happy that I’ve learned how to communicate this very complex science so that people are interested in it.”

Simard is joined on the magazine’s annual list by Canadians such as actors Elliot Page and Michael J. Fox and artificial intelligence pioneer Yoshua Bengio.

A blonde white woman holds up a book called Life in the city of dirty water.
Simard is seen on CBC’s Canada Reads in 2022. (CBC)

According to Time magazine’s write-up about Simard, the professor was chosen because of what it called the “revolutionary” findings of her extensive study of forest ecology.

“Her 200-plus peer-reviewed articles have deeply informed the thinking of conservationists and environmentalists working to help preserve forests in a world ever more threatened by climate change and wildfires,” the New York-based publication wrote. “The trees, Simard teaches us, are talking. It is our job to start listening.”

For Simard, however, the honour is simply an opportunity — much like her brief citation on Ted Lasso three years ago — to expose more people worldwide to the power of our planet’s forests.

“I hope that I can amplify the message through this recognition so that we can better protect our forests,” Simard told CBC News. “It’s so important that people become interested [and] engaged in their forests, because what’s happening in our forests affects all of us.

“You know, if forests are in trouble, we’re in trouble … really, so much good ecosystem integrity hinges on protecting these old trees.”

Pulitzer-winning podcaster recognized

Another Canadian named to this year’s “most influential people” list is former CBC News journalist Connie Walker, whose Gimlet Media podcast Stolen: Surviving St. Michaels won two of journalism’s top honours: a Pulitzer Prize and a Peabody Award.

Walker, from Okanese First Nation in Saskatchewan, posted to the social media platform X that she was “humbled” by her inclusion in Time magazine’s list.

A woman is wrapped in a starblanket on a stage with other people.
Cree journalist Connie Walker is recognized for her investigative work by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) at its annual general assembly in Halifax on July 11, 2023. (Tehosterihens Deer/CBC)

“I was so excited when I found out I was going to be included,” the Cree investigative journalist wrote on Friday. “Thank you to everyone who has listened and shared our podcast.”

Diabetes researcher on team hailed by Time

A Toronto-based endocrinologist and university professor is among a trio of academics named to the list for their contributions to the development of a “revolutionary” class of drugs, including Ozempic and Wegovy, for people with diabetes and potentially other conditions like obesity, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s.

Dr. Daniel Drucker’s research helped discover how certain hormones, known as glucagon-like peptides, stimulate insulin production to regulate blood sugar.

A man sits in front of a whiteboard.
Endocrinologist Dr. Daniel J. Drucker is pictured in his lab, at Mount Sinai Hospital, in Toronto, on March 15, 2024. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Actors Elliot Page, Michael J. Fox also honoured

Walker and Simard joined the list alongside several Canadian movie stars, including Umbrella Academy star Elliot Page, who in 2021 became the first transgender man featured on the cover of Time.

Page, of Halifax, wrote on his Instagram account that it was “a tremendous honour to be featured” on the publication’s list this year.

Individual with short dark hair, wearing a black tux and bowtie, smiling
Elliot Page made history as the first transgender man to be photographed for the cover of Time magazine in 2021. (Jae C. Hong/Invision/The Associated Press)

Back to the Future star Michael J. Fox, who was born in Edmonton, was also named on the list. Fox has become a globally recognized advocate for those with Parkinson’s disease, which he was diagnosed with in 1991.

Fellow Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds wrote that Fox’s inclusion on the list is deserved because of the “level of compassion Mike has mastered,” Reynolds wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.

A white man wearing a Canada-U.S. flag pin on his blazer smiles while seated.
Retired actor Michael J. Fox is seen in an interview with CBC News last year. The star has been recognized for his work advocating for those with Parkinson’s disease. (Sean Brocklehurst/CBC)

“It’d be kinda lazy to simply characterize him as the greatest champion of Parkinson’s research on the planet,” the Deadpool star wrote. “It’d be kinda lazy to simply regard him as a movie star who shaped the lives of people all over the planet with a uniquely electric wit and self-aware charm.

“He’s the sum of these beautiful parts. And so many more.”

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