Category Archives: Travel

Travels in Singapore and Japan

The principal (third from left) helps to cut the ribbon to open the Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules in Nagoya, Japan.

When I first arrived at Queen’s as an undergraduate student in 1976, one of my fellow classmates (though I did not know him personally) was Prince Takamado, a member of the Imperial House of Japan.  Prince Takamado studied in the Faculty of Law and graduated from Queen’s in 1981. Tragically, the prince died suddenly in 2002 at age 47, but his fondness for Canada and Queen’s has become an important part of his legacy (great credit is owed to a former Queen’s Vice-Principal and later President of the University of Alberta, Dr. Rod Fraser, who made the relationship with Japan a priority in both of those positions).  In 2004, Prince Takamado’s wife, Princess Hisako Tottori, visited campus to pay homage to his time at Queen’s. In addition to planting a Sakura tree in front of Summerhill, she also dedicated a special collection of Japanese materials to Stauffer library. A student scholarship, the Prince Takamado Visiting Student Scholarship, has been established in his name, and each year we welcome an undergraduate student from Japan on a one-year exchange.

I have been reflecting on Prince Takamado and the Queen’s-Japan relationship recently as I am currently travelling in Asia, which has included stops in Singapore, Tokyo and, currently, Nagoya, Japan. Prince Takamado recognized the importance of a global education, and we should all be proud that Queen’s had an important impact on his life. It was with great pleasure that, earlier this week at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, Vice-Principal (Research) Steven Liss and I had the opportunity to participate in the selection process for the successful recipient of the 2015-16 Prince Takamado scholarship. While it is premature to announce the selected candidate, I can assure you that we will once again welcome a remarkable student from Japan to Queen’s.


Daniel Woolf and Vice-Principal (Research) Steven Liss met with Heather Grant (Artsci’89), Canada’s High Commissioner to Singapore.

My visit to Japan, which follows on a very productive two-day stop in Singapore, has been an important reminder of how much Queen’s has to offer this region and how much we can benefit from further engagement. During visits with Keio University and Waseda University (both old universities and members of the ‘Category A’ research universities group, roughly equivalent to Canada’s U15) I was struck by the similarities in the values we desire for our graduates, including a strong foundation in a broad based education that recognizes the importance of global exposure and experience. I am more convinced than ever that our latest push to diversify our community, and to provide more opportunities for student and faculty mobility, is necessary and will only serve to strengthen both our student learning experience and our research reputation.

Our international research trajectory is also clear. The challenges and intellectual questions of our time are global in nature and the solutions and answers discovered will only be strengthened if we work collaboratively.  Issues of water management, ageing populations and the role of humanities and social sciences scholarship in society are themes that have resonated during several of our engagements on this visit (Vice-Principal Liss presented a talk on his own work in the area of water management at Nanyang Technological University during our visit to Singapore). There are obvious linkages to these areas, and many others, with Queen’s researchers, our centres and institutes, and with the National Centres of Excellence that Queen’s hosts. Vice-Principal Liss and I are in complete agreement that we need to encourage and facilitate greater linkages with this region to deepen existing partnerships and build relationships in identified areas of strength.

My last stop of this tour will be at Nagoya University where I will attend the opening of the Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules (ITbM).  Professor Cathleen Crudden (from our own Department of Chemistry) also holds an appointment as a research professor at Nagoya and has been instrumental in establishing the Institute and preparing for its launch. Dr. Crudden joins faculty from Japan, Switzerland, and the United States in this impressive collaborative effort. She and her colleagues are to be commended for their research and global outlook.


Principal Woolf (centre) at a gathering for Queen’s alumni in Tokyo, Japan.

Finally, I had the privilege of hosting alumni events in both Singapore and Tokyo. I am inspired by the enthusiasm of our alumni whenever I go, and it goes without saying that as we continue our drive for greater international exposure and engagement, our alumni will be important ambassadors. I am pleased to report that in both Japan and Singapore we have enthusiastic alumni who want to help, and who have a wealth of local knowledge to share. I thank those alumni who participated in our visits; you will hear from us again soon!

Although I started my career as a historian of 16th– and 17th-century Britain, in more recent years my interests have shifted to the history of historical writing, globally. Japan in particular has a rich tradition of historical literature going back to the seventh century AD. Interestingly, Keio University, which we visited a few days ago, was founded by the great 19th century social reformer Fukuzawa Yukichi. It was Fukuzawa who, in the aftermath of the Meiji Restoration (1868) helped open Japanese universities to western influences (and to the adoption of European, especially German, scientific and scholarly methods). Under current Prime Minister Abe, a renewed push to internationalize Japan is underway. We in the west, and especially in Canada, need to reciprocate that openness and to pursue linkages both here and elsewhere. Neglecting to do so will leave us much poorer.

I have enjoyed my travels in Asia, but I always look forward to returning to campus and sharing what I have learned.  I encourage you to be in touch if you also have an experience to share about studying or research in Japan or Singapore. As always, you can reach me at



A mid-November update

It’s hard to believe that we are already halfway through November – but here we are, with the last of the fall leaves clinging to the trees, and a wintry chill in the air. I’m sure you will all agree that this is a busy time of year. I feel as if the wheels that were put in motion at the beginning of the term are now spinning furiously and won’t slow down again until the holiday season (which will be upon us in no time!). I wanted to bring you a few updates about what has been keeping me busy, both on and off campus, in recent weeks.

Student Ramona Neferu addresses the audience at the Principal's Community Breakfast.

Student Ramona Neferu addresses the audience at the Principal’s Community Breakfast.

On Wednesday, I had the great pleasure of hosting my annual Principal’s Community Breakfast. Held this year at the Ambassador Hotel and Conference Centre, the event is an opportunity for me to acknowledge and strengthen the bonds between Queen’s and the greater Kingston community. The event included a couple of excellent collaborative presentations built on the idea of the “community as classroom”.

The first was a presentation from Dr. Brian Frank, Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering, who told us about a course he teaches that includes a 12-week community service learning project. Taken by over 700 students ever year, the course sends them out into the community where they work with organizations like Martha’s Table, which provides low-cost meals to people in need. Ronda Candy, managing director at Martha’s Table, and Ramona Neferu, who is studying Engineering Chemistry, both shared their insights and experiences as well. Later, Dr. Anastasia Riehl, Director of the Strathy Language Unit and an adjunct professor in Linguistics, talked about a current project that sees her partnering with the Wolfe Island Historical Society to gather residents’ oral histories; she was followed by the organization’s treasurer and genealogy, Brian MacDonald.

It was an inspiring morning, to say the least. Experiential learning is one way that we can help our students develop skills that will set them up well for the working world. I am hopeful that the event will inspire more community partners to consider collaborating with us.

Here I am gathered with Queen's alumni after a dinner at the Canadian Consul General's residence in Hong Kong.

Here I am gathered with Queen’s alumni after a dinner at the Canadian Consul General’s residence in Hong Kong.

In other news, I’ve had to be off-campus quite a bit over the last few weeks on university business. In October, I had traveledto Hong Kong – my first trip there on Queen’s business. Consul-general (and Queen’s alumnus) Ian Burchett hosted a wonderful dinner in honour of my visit. I also met a number of key alumni in the area, and visited some regional high schools (including the Canadian International School, whose Head of School is also a Queen’s alumnus). It was a short but busy trip, allowing us to solidify our ties with the Greater China region – a part of the world that currently provides us with nearly 20 per cent of our international student body.

I was also fortunate, recently, to be able to participate in the installation ceremonies for the new leaders of McGill and the University of Toronto. McGill’s 17th Principal, Dr. Suzanne Fortier, is a former Queen’s faculty member in the Department of Chemistry who also served as both vice-principal (academic) and vice-principal (research). Dr. Meric S. Gertler, U of T’s 16th President, is a renowned urban geographer. Both bring a great deal of vision to their new positions. I look forward to working with them both over the next few years on matters of importance to postsecondary education and research in Canada.

Finally, I want to finish off with a few words about Homecoming, which we celebrated last month for the first time in five years. I heard directly from many alumni who told me that they were very happy to be back on campus in the fall. For the most part, I think the two-weekend model worked well. That said, things didn’t go off entirely without incident – particularly on the first Saturday night when too many people gathered in the streets in the near-campus area. We have been engaged in consultations with many community partners since the Homecoming weekends to gather feedback about the events, and those conversations are continuing.  I would like to reiterate my thanks to everyone who helped plan and execute Homecoming, as well as to the Kingston Police, who offered invaluable support on both weekends.

I’m in Banff this weekend to celebrate the fact that a record seven Queen’s faculty members are being inducted into the Royal Society of Canada. The Society only admits eighty new fellows every year, so it’s quite an extraordinary feat for a university of our size to have so many inducted at once. It’s truly a testament to the quality of our faculty at Queen’s.

Enjoy the rest of the fall, and good luck to those of you who will soon be preparing for final exams!



Queen’s in China

Principal's vist to China

I recently returned from two weeks abroad that included several destinations (a visit to silicon valley and San Francisco among them) but which was built around an 8-day, two city trip to China. In that country, I travelled to the campuses of several universities, met with representatives of government bodies (a highlight was the China Scholarship Council, which funds many graduate students at Queen’s and this year will begin to fund select undergraduates for year-long visits), the Canadian consulate in Shanghai, attended two combined alumni/recruitment events (joined by international recruiter Andrea McIntyre and Queen’s School of English Director Elaine Armstrong), and enjoyed a number of meals with senior alumni or Queen’s parents. Owing to internet access restrictions, and an exceedingly busy schedule, it was not possible to blog from China, so I am providing now an overview of the mission and what we learned and achieved.

This was the first visit to China by a principal of Queen’s since 2000 when Bill Leggett travelled there. Ideally, there should not be another such gap. China, much like India, is not a country one can drop into on occasion, leave some business cards and brochures (though in fact we did that) and then tick it off the ‘to-do’ list. Relationships are both institutional and personal, and they require frequent contact and regular, if less frequent, visits.

We have yet to map out the international strategy for Queen’s over the coming years–appropriately, the academic plan needed to come first–but it is in progress. Without prejudging that exercise, I think it hard to imagine that China would not feature prominently in our internationalization plans. For one thing, it is by a substantial margin the biggest source of international students for Queen’s at both the undergraduate and graduate/professional level. For another, it is the fastest growing economy in the world and it is important that our graduates be able to engage meaningfully with it and that, ideally, they learn something about its culture and practices.

Principal's vist to China

Senior university administrators from Queen’s and Fudan discuss their partnerships.

China is not India, the other very fast growing Asian economy. Things can occur quite slowly in India, especially where government is involved. In China they move with lightning speed. At one university in Shanghai we toured a brand new library, about four times the size of Stauffer, that was built from shovel-in-ground to opening in barely a year. New universities are being created all the time, and there appears to be a limitless, or at least a very large amount of money to fund them: though, be it noted, the Chinese have decided on a very clear differentiation among their universities, ranging from ‘small’ (by Chinese standards) local ones through several higher gradations leading to the top tier of a very small number of institutions. These are Beijing’s Tsinghua (science and engineering mainly, though now with a medical school recently re-merged with it); Peking University, also in Beijing (very strong in humanities and social sciences, but with a polymer chemist as its current president); and Fudan in Shanghai, our long-standing anchor partner. There is a ‘985’ group (this is not an area code, but refers to a particular party speech on a given date, articulating an ambitious vision for China’s universities) and a ‘211’ group (same idea). Differentiation is a policy that in China, with a national, rather than state, jurisdiction over education (though in fact there are PSE institutions described as regional and even municipal) it is much easier to enforce than in Canada, with our provincial jurisdictions and, by and large, political reluctance to date, to enforce differentiation.

There are also specialist institutions, three of which we visited. CELAP in Shanghai, a training ground for senior civil servants, is a government sponsored institution with which Queen’s already enjoys a relationship, one that will be strengthened by our recent visit. We had the opportunity to visit the China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing (a school with which I have a personal connection having, in my last job, negotiated a ‘1 plus 3′ degree arrangement between it and my former university/faculty. In addition, its dean of international studies was in Kingston quite recently, as her son graduated from Queen’s last year and is now working in Moscow).

Principal's visit to China

Officials from Queen’s and Fudan, seen here following their meeting in Shanghai, recently renewed several student and faculty exchange agreements.

All of the visits were productive, some exploring possible new relationships, others advancing existing ones. A few schools have specific bilateral exchange arrangements with Queen’s faculties (in particular, Queen’s School of Business), which we would like to broaden.  Memoranda of Understanding were signed to facilitate such discussions. Expanded relationships would include exchange opportunities for students in other faculties, and enhanced research linkages. Queen’s Vice-Principal (Research) Steven Liss and Vice-Provost (International) John Dixon, both of whom travelled with me, were able to open doors for our researchers by raising awareness, at the universities we visited, of our areas of expertise.

The wisdom of Principal Emeritus Leggett and of Dr. Dixon (who will be leaving his international role later this spring after 12 years and 7 visits to China), of starting slowly in China, with a single major partner, Fudan, has I think paid off, as that relationship is especially strong. It can now provide the base from which to expand to other universities.

Fudan hosts our China office, staffed by Queen’s Political Science part-time PhD candidate Dr. Zhiyao Zhang (he already has a PhD from a Chinese university). Dr. Zhang, as our full time representative in China, helps students seeking admission to Queen’s, visits with other universities, and keeps Queen’s ‘on the radar’ in China. He has done a remarkable job of this in just five years (in 2007, Queen’s became the first Canadian university to open a China office, a pattern now being emulated by others, and a very good initiative on the part of Dr. Dixon).

Our delegation (one does not visit Chinese institutions, officially, as individuals, as I’ve learned over 4 different trips since 2005) also included Jonathan Kong (Arts ’11), who spent time in our Fudan Global Development Studies semester abroad program (a real jewel, which puts our students in the same class as Fudan students, not merely swapping places with them). Jonathan, now working for Queen’s Advancement office, was also a ‘Castle Kid’, who spent his first year at Herstmonceux, and we were struck at many of our meetings by the enormous interest in Queen’s presence in the southern UK, something that truly does set us apart from most other North American institutions. Fortunately we also had with us Dr. Bruce Stanley, the newly appointed Director of the Bader International Study Centre. Bruce’s vision for the BISC is to include many more international students and, eventually, international faculty members, who may wish to come for short periods or for conferences.

Was the trip worthwhile? Unquestionably. Its ultimate worth will be demonstrable down the road when we see more widespread recognition of Queen’s degrees and of the Queen’s name abroad, when there are greater opportunities for our students to spend time at a Chinese institution, and in an increased number of Chinese students choosing to come here either on exchange or for their full degrees. The ones that come have a good experience. We hosted two public events, in Shanghai and Beijing, for alumni and prospective students and their parents. At the Beijing event, a student from Tsinghua who had spent a term at Queen’s School of Business here in Kingston indicated enthusiastically that her term at Queen’s had been the best experience of her academic career. So we are off to a good start. But there is scope for much much more engagement between Queen’s and China.

Two kilometres underground to a thousand light years away: a trip to SNOLAB

One of the most interesting facets of my job as principal is exploring the myriad different kinds of research and scholarship that occurs on our campus–or off it. To start an intermittent series of blogs on some of these activities, I’ve chosen one of our best known (at least in scientific communities), SNOLAB. Funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the various institutional partners, and other provincial and federal granting agencies, it is among the most ambitious ‘Big Science’ projects undertaken in Canada.

schematic of SNOLAB; pinecone shaped area at bottom left is that occupied by original SNO experiment

SNO stands for ‘Sudbury Neutrino Observatory’ and is the name of a particular experiment, years in the making, the purpose of which was to detect and study neutrinos. These subatomic particles are emitted by the sun, and further away, by super-novas. And, according to Prof Tony Noble of Queen’s Physics Department, they come in 3 ‘flavours’. A burst from a supernova will actually precede optical sighting of the supernova, so a detection will, we were told on our visit, immediately cause lots and lots of telescopes around the world to be trained in that direction to observe the event of which the neutrinos are the herald. Neutrinos are not caught like butterflies or herring. In order to filter out all the background radiation that they are surrounded with, it is necessary to be either inside a mountain, or far underground, since the other forms of radiation do not travel as well or efficiently. The earth provides a filter and the detector itself, a big round ball full of heavy water, provided the sieve to catch the neutrinos. SNO was the brainchild of Dr Art McDonald, also of the Physics Dept. It was constructed nearly 2 km down a vertical mineshaft. This is located just outside of Sudbury, on the site of Vale Mines (formerly Inco) local operation. Queen’s owns the land on which the new surface building (which houses offices and rooms for prepping those going to the lab proper, but the project as a whole is a shared initiative between five universities: Queen’s, Carleton, Laurentian, U de Montreal, and the University of Alberta. It is affiliated with other major particle physics endeavours in Canada, notably the Perimeter Institute, and TRIUMF (the national particle research facility based at UBC but also involving several university partners, Queen’s among them). The success of the original SNO led to the idea of expanding the facility (both literally in size and also in scope of inquiry) into SNOLAB, which is bigger by several orders of magnitude than the space occupied by the original SNO. The original experiment has now been concluded (though it is being succeeded by a ‘SNO Plus’). It has a complicated governance structure atop which sits the SNOLAB Institute, which provides more or less the same level of oversight to the SNOLAB management and scientific teams that the Queen’s Board of Trustees provides the administration. Vice-Principal (Research) Steven Liss and I, along with Director of Public and Government Affairs Sheilagh Dunn, paid a visit to SNOLAB on August 24. The lab isn’t quite complete but already has some new experiments going. Just getting to the lab is an adventure. As a kid (and even more recently) I always enjoyed science fiction films; the depth of SNOLAB and the stages one goes through reminds me of the 1971 film The Andromeda Strain and its ‘Wildfire’ facility (based on Michael Crichton’s first novel). In a nutshell, here are the steps: First, you have to arrive the day before in Sudbury. We did so, and had a dinner meeting with my friend and colleague Laurentian University President Dominic Giroux and a number of his administrative team, in conjunction with Prof Noble, who commutes between Kingston and Sudbury. The next morning we had to be out of the hotel by 615. We were driven to the surface building of SNO where we deposited wallets, cellphones (not allowed in the mine!) etc and donned mining gear–rough coveralls, socks, rubber boots and a miner’s helmet complete with headlamp. Then we were marched over to the minehead, signed in and  were each given a tag, which we then hung on a pegboard to indicate we would be down the shaft.

getting ready to descend

At 740 we were called to the ‘cage’ as the elevator that takes people up and down the various levels of the mine is called. It’s a tight squeeze on one of the cage’s two decks. A series of buzzes signalling to the cage operator, and we were on our way down at a pretty brisk rate of descent not unlike landing in an airplane. At the bottom, we were disgorged from the cage. But at that point we were still 2 km horizontally from SNOLAB which is right at the end of a long tunnel known as the drift. Our helmets now lit, we proceeded through the mud and water down the tracks to the lab door. (Because the cage and drift are Vale property, we couldn’t take photos of this part of the adventure). There our boots were washed off and we went through the first of several doors.

just inside the lab

Once inside, everyone was separated into male and female change rooms. We discarded our mining outfits (hanging them up for exit later in the day) and took a shower. We then put on clean gear including finer coveralls, new inside boots, a hairnet, and another hardhat for walking through the internal tunnels. The whole process from getting to the cage to being fully clean and inside the lab took about an hour. We had a number of excellent guides on our tour. Samantha Kuula is a fulltime SNOLab staffer charged with outreach and communications. She makes the trip down at least a couple of times a week either with groups or to reconnect with the science going on so she can write about it. Tony Noble, Director of the SNOLAB Institute (and a former director of the facility itself) was of course with us, and Dr Nigel Smith, a British physicist who is the SNOLAB Facility Director and Dr Fraser Duncan Associate Director. Nigel, Tony and Fraser took it in turns describing the innards of the original SNO site and the expanded SNOLAB, while Samantha was responsible for getting us in and out. I was also pleased to see on the trip down a 3rd year Engineering Physics student, Kira, who has spent the summer building a cooling unit for one of the experiments. She was there to try it out.

in the central kitchen; that's me with the coffee

After a brief rest period for some coffee and fruit and muffins (which has to come in double bagged to be clean, and can’t go out again except in special garbage containers), we were ready to begin the walk around the facility. We saw first the site of the original SNO experiment, in one of several big holes carved out for the purpose. The SNO site is a bit cramped, with low ceilings and tight corners (needless to say just about everything that comes down the shaft has to fit in the cage and often be reassembled underground). Once done there, and after another break (the air pressure is higher down underground and one can tire easily), we were off to see the new facility. Well, if getting into the lab reminded me of the Andromeda Strain, the lab itself seems more like one of Ernst Blofeld’s hideaways in an early James Bond film, minus the armed henchmen. I almost expected to see a white cat. The internal tunnels (there are no square walls or ceilings) have been trowelled down to a flat finish in order to reduce the dust (one or two service lines have a rougher, stucco finish). Everywhere are uniformed workers with hardhats, either on one of the experiments, or completing some of the infrastructure. Crews work 4 10 hour shifts a week. Our tour was there for a little less time as we were scheduled to go back up on the 2 pm cage.

getting an overview of SNO

The facility, as mentioned, isn’t quite complete, but it already has ‘tenants’. SNOLAB is, if you like, a kind of hotel for big science projects requiring underground siting. Several of these, such as SNOPlus and DEAP (an experiment to search for ‘dark matter’ using liquid argon–the acronym stands for “Dark Matter Experiment using Argon Pulse-shape discrimination”) have Queen’s faculty as the principal investigators, others involve two or more of the partner institutions. But SNOLAB is an open facility in the sense that scientists elsewhere can apply to set up their experiment within SNOLAB for a period of years, and then vacate when their research has run its course. They bring their own funding (some of it American for instance), but there is a huge advantage in not having to replicate the clean rooms and basic infrastructure that the lab as a whole can provide. Some of the experiments are looking at very similar problems, but using different methods.

HALO, one of the SNOLAB experiments (nothing to do with the video game of the same name!)

And some of them are small pilots for bigger experiments to come–smaller scale machinery are set up to demonstrate that the experiment can in practice work before a major outlay for larger scale facilities is needed. Thus DEAP will soon be moving to its full-scale version from the working pilot. As a  historian, I have very limited knowledge of the science behind all these experiments, so it was great to have Tony, Nigel and Fraser explain them in lay terms. What most impresses one is the sheer scope of the planning that has to go into simply setting up any of these experiments, never mind executing them, and also the long term investment of time–these are not experiments that generate an instant return of published papers.

outside a couple of grain silos adapted for experimental purposes

Such productivity can take several years (though a relatively short span compared to the length of time that the neutrinos and other particles have been travelling to our part of the galaxy!)

interior of the silo, looking up; all of the equipment must be brought down in the cage and reassembled in the lab

At 1 o’clock we wrapped up, went back to the kitchen for a final rest period, then reversed our steps, abandoning our labwear for our mining togs once again, back along the drift and up the cage. Once back at the top of the shaft, we removed our tags from the pegboard and signed out of the mine. Then, back in the SNOLAB surface building, we reshowered to get the mine grime off again, and got back into our street clothes. It was an extraordinary experience, but amazing as the facility is, the experiments that will live in it for the next 3 or 4 decades (or until the mine closes) promise to be even more fascinating. And it all takes place right here in Canada, with Queen’s University as a leader.

All photos by S. Liss and S. Dunn

Some relevant links: SNOLAB home page Queen’s Particle Astrophysics projects

Australia Tour 2011-Friday Feb 18 2011

My video blog – Feb, 17th, 2011

Canberra's airport is quite small compared to Melbourne, Perth or Sydney. After the one hour flight from Melbourne we had our bags in about 5 minutes.

There have been a couple of travel days and evening events since we checked out of our Melbourne hotel on Tuesday morning, but also a lot of activity, which I’ve saved for this post.

We arrived in Canberra on Tuesday evening.

I was domiciled at University House, a residence especially for visiting scholars and their families on the grounds of the Australian National University. The grounds are quite lovely, as is most of the ANU campus though there was a fair bit of construction occurring here and there.

grounds of University House at ANU where I stayed the nights of the 15th and 16th Feb. They contain a duck pond in which a former Aussie PM once took a dip.

Wednesday, our only full day in Canberra was very busy indeed. I began it by having breakfast with Prof Anthony Reid, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Southeast Asian history. Tony had helped out as an advisory editor on one of my historiographic projects in the 90s but we’d never met before. As it turned out, he has been to Kingston several times as his cousin is Prof Emeritus of Mathematics Malcolm Griffin. Small world. Academically it was definitely a Southeast Asian day, as my lunch was spent with one of his colleagues, Prof Ann Kumar, who is also an Indonesia specialist, and a current contributor to the Oxford History of Historical Writing project based at Queen’s.

Much of the rest of the day was taken up with visits with several ANU administrators including Darren Brown, the chief international officer,

At the Jackie Chan Science Centre at ANU. The actor's family lives in the area.

and outgoing Vice-chancellor Ian Chubb who in fact leaves his position next week. We had especially useful chats with Mandy Thomas, the Pro- VC for graduate education and research, and with Lawrence Cram, the DVP (= our provost). Lawrence and I swapped views on the relationship between teaching and research, and I heard a good deal about how ANU works, and about the funding model in particular.

ANU is unusual in that it is federally legislated. All Australian universities as noted in earlier blogs are funded by the national government, but report to a state government on their activities and financials. ANU, located in Canberra (which isn’t in a state but in the ‘Australian Capital Territory’ or ACT) actually answers to no state, and moreover gets a block grant from the national government not unlike an endowment. This has facilitated much of its enormous success and reputation in research. Prof Cram is an astronomer, so I also got some handy tips on what to look for in a new set of binoculars!

In the afternoon we had a meeting with Canada’s High Commissioner to Australia, Michael Small, and his staff, including Deputy HC David Mackinnon, a Queen’s MBA grad. (David joined us in Sydney the following night for the alumni reception on which more a bit further down). The discussion mainly concerned how Canada in general can raise its profile as a brand internationally–my November trip to India was used as an example of a concerted effort in this regard by Canadian executive heads. The similarities between Canada and Australia constitutionally and culturally were also discussed, with a particular reference to public policy issues.

dinner out in Canberra with Queen's community

Our last campus meeting of the day was at the ANU’s Centre for Mental Health Research. We met with Prof Helen Christensen, the Director, and her associate Prof Kathy Griffiths (an undergraduate chum of my colleague and travel companion this week Dr Sally Rigden). I informed them about mental health initiatives on our campus, about our work over the past year raising mental health awareness and introducing the Mental Health First Aid program, which was developed initially at ANU, and then exported to Canada. Queen’s imported it last year from the province of Alberta, where my wife Julie was able to use her connections with her former colleagues at the Alberta Mental Health Board to connect our Student Affairs Team with the First Aid program. So it was very nice to close the circle by visiting the unit that began this important program.

The evening was a pleasant, relaxed one at a Thai restaurant with a recent Queen’s grad Mike Roger (now starting a Masters at ANU–Mike’s two younger brothers are currently at Queen’s), with history MA alumnus David Akers (till recently exec officer to VC Ian Chubb at ANU) who had been at Queen’s in the history department during my postdoctoral stint there, and with Jack and Judy Jeswiet. Judy is a retired nurse and Jack is a Queen’s Professor of Mechanical Engineering, in Canberra on sabbatical. I’ve known them for a VERY long time–they were the wardens (as head dons were then called) of Gordon House when I was a resident of Gordon-Brockington in 76-77!

downtown Sydney traffic is really quite amazing.

After this at was back to the residence to sleep for a few hours before a very early trip to Sydney where we arrived at 930 on Thursday morning. We had two sets of meetings, one at the University of New South Wales (where we met among others Queen’s alumnus David Cohen, a scientist in charge of UNSW’s equivalent of our Bio Sci department–David joined us for the alumni reception later that day). UNSW is our largest exchange partner, with about 150 students from each partner having gone back and forth over the years. In the afternoon we wrestled with Sydney traffic

and visited the campus of the rapidly expanding MacQuarie University just outside Sydney. It is like a small town, with its own train station, and will be expanding to about 50,000 students in the next couple of years. Talks at both schools involved increasing our level of faculty and graduate exchange activity.

driving across Sydney Harbour Bridge on our way back from MacQuarie University

The business part of the trip concluded Thursday night at the offices of the Consul-General of Canada in Sydney, Tom McDonald. Tom is another Queen’s History grad, class of 1972, and has been in his current post for 3 years. The view from his rooftop terrace is stunning. Apart from Tom and his wife Susan, an early resident of Victoria Hall, several of his staff are Queen’s grads, including Sharon Pinney and Elaine Callagan.

This was  a terrific event during which I met most of the nearly 100 alumni and guests who turned up, about a quarter of all the alumni in Sydney. After some remarks by Tom and by me, and a door prize draw, we conducted what may well have been the first ever mass Oil Thigh on a Sydney rooftop.  Attending the reception among others was Prof. Harold Messel, Queen’s 1948, one of Australia’s most distinguished nuclear scientists, who came in all the way from his home in Tasmania for the function. Prof Missel is 88 and still going strong. Other guests with whom I chatted included a PhD grad from the  70s who had lived in a Science 44 co-op house on Earl St. Within  a few minutes we realized that the house he was talking about was one that became a private residence in the 1980s–and which Julie and I currently live in!

view from the Canadian consulate roof of Sydney Harbour including the famous opera house Feb 17 2011

I was especially pleased at the reception that we were joined by four current Queen’s students here on exchange at various Australian universities. Chaz Legge, Courtney de Cosimo, Lindsay Fisher and Steffi Regpala mixed with our alumni and helped reinforce my message to them that Queen’s welcomes and needs their continued support.

The reception was to end at 730, but at 830, when I left, there were still people in attendance. It was a great way to end the trip. There is no organized alumni branch in Sydney, but as the evening went on, several different people indicated that they would be very interested in rectifying that.

As I write this, it is Friday morning in Sydney. I fly home tomorrow after a busy but very productive week with lots learned about higher education in a country very similar to Canada, and some very useful contacts either made or strengthened. Back home late Saturday night to the Kingston winter!