Category Archives: Uncategorized

An alternative, industry-linked model for PhD training

This op-ed first appeared in University Affairs on March 28, 2017.

We’ve heard a great deal in recent years about a “skills gap” being experienced by business and industry and the need for more apprentices, pipe-fitters and so on. Much of this concern is economic-cycle dependent and the downturn in energy prices has quieted this discussion. What is less at issue is the need for more “work-integrated learning,” a broad category that can include everything from formal co-op programs to one-year internships, to more course-based experiential education. Universities such as Queen’s have invested heavily in recent years in creating programs and opportunities for our students to learn the lessons (some of them hard) of entrepreneurship and innovation. This will be a good thing, as long as there is sufficient supply of graduates also prepared to go into business, industry and the non-profit or public sectors – not everyone can or should be an independent entrepreneur.

But what about the needs of business and industry at the more advanced level? At a recent meeting of the U15 group of universities, a number of STEM industry leaders noted that there appeared to be a downturn in the production of PhDs generally and of PhDs in STEM disciplines in particular. However, the most recent numbers coming from Statistics Canada show that the number of PhD degrees awarded grew steadily between 2006 and 2013. That said, Canada falls below the OECD average with respect to the number of PhDs held – surely a problem if we are to be competitive in the global knowledge economy – and perhaps the reason behind the sense of a “downturn.”

Canada’s low number of PhD holders could be ascribed to a combination of factors including:

  1. the reduction in real terms of funding for investigator driven basic science research over the past decade;
  2. the sluggish academic job market, which, given constraints on provincial budgets (the primary funder of university operating expenses in Canada) and the absence of mandatory retirement, is not likely to change in the medium term;
  3. Canada’s poor performance in supporting business and organizations to embrace innovation as a strategy for growth. The cumulative effects lead quite simply to a drying up of the pipeline that leads from education to economic growth and global competitiveness.

University and business leaders agree that this is a problem, and it’s accentuated by the failure of many of us in academe to connect more closely with industry – not, I emphasize, to allow a private sector agenda to dominate research, but rather to make sure that prospective candidates for PhD are aware of opportunities outside the academy both before and as they progress to degree completion. It should be noted that academic/industry programs such as those offered by Mitacs have proven to be quite successful, but I wonder what more we could be doing to foster skills and career development through direct partnerships with industry. These would not be limited to STEM – banks and other businesses have needs for the critical skills that can be provided by PhDs in English or Political Studies – but I’ll confine myself to STEM here with a modest suggestion for a solution.

Universities and businesses could take a page from the playbook of Canada’s Armed Forces, who have been producing their officers for decades through a combination of teaching them themselves (for instance at Royal Military College in Kingston) or subsidizing their education at other institutions. In return, they get an agreed-upon promise of years of service post-degree.

What if we extended that model to the doctoral level? Businesses and industries could either individually, or as a pool, provide four years of doctoral funding for qualified candidates to do a PhD at a research-intensive university, in return for, say, four years of employment at the firm afterward. This would solve a variety of problems at once. It would provide a badly needed alternative stream of funding for students thus enabling faculty to take on doctoral-level researchers in their labs. It would remove the problem of “what do I do when I’m finished”? It would ensure a steady supply of STEM PhDs in needed areas. It would seed businesses with managers who understand the importance of university-based research and what it can do for Canada’s economy. And it would help mitigate the most unhelpful and unrealistic notion that we in the academy have, that our PhDs must go into academe, must get a postdoc, etc., or else they have failed us and we them.

This alternative model for PhD training would need to be designed carefully. At the outset it would require that intellectual property considerations are addressed and that there is a clear understanding that the research to be undertaken is an academic requirement conducted under the mentorship of the faculty supervisor. Ideally, there should be opportunities for work-integrated learning woven into the academic program. Many programs are introducing such opportunities, and with businesses investing in supporting students they may be highly motivated to provide training that will complement the academic learning and better prepare PhDs to join the employer upon degree completion.

The current model of relations between business and the university, built mainly on patents and licenses, has served us all well for decades. But the world has changed, and we need as a country to raise our game and examine other models of integration. If we do not, we run the risk of losing the next generation of research leaders. Not just business, not just the university, but Canada as a whole will be the poorer for it.

Becoming a more inclusive site of scholarship and learning

Canada marks its sesquicentennial this year, and amid the excitement and celebrations much attention is being, justly, paid to how as a country we can improve our national record on the treatment of our Aboriginal Peoples. There is a strong feeling that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, issued in 2015 and published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, has the capacity to mark a watershed in Aboriginal matters, and not simply with respect to the apologies owed for the blight of the residential schools. Educational access and opportunity will lie at the core of any initiative to empower First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people.

Queen’s, along with other Canadian universities, is doing its bit. Last year we set up a committee under Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) Jill Scott to consult widely and recommend some specific educational actions that Queen’s can take. Some are already in place or under way, as depicted in this issue of the Review. Others will be announced in the coming months.

During a Special Senate meeting on March 7th, Nathan Brinklow, a lecturer in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, speaks after presenting me with a friendship wampum on behalf of the clan mothers at Tyendinaga and the Grandmother’s Council in Kingston.

During a special Senate meeting on March 7th, Nathan Brinklow, a lecturer in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, speaks after presenting me with a friendship wampum on behalf of the clan mothers at Tyendinaga and the Grandmothers’ Council in Kingston.

At the same time, Queen’s is also confronting wider issues of inclusivity, diversity, and – though the word is an ugly one – racism. Queen’s is a much more diverse institution than it was in my day as a student: we have students from around the world, and Canadian students from many different ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds, and of different sexual and gender orientations.

Our faculty and staff are also more diverse, though that diversity is not evenly distributed across the university’s units and its ranks. Some of our attitudes and traditions have not kept pace with this reality.

Accordingly, in parallel with our work to improve the Aboriginal experience, I have also struck a committee to implement some changes recommended by previous reports such as the Diversity, Anti-Racism and Equity (DARE) report. A few have been made since that report was issued seven years ago, but the time is overdue to execute the others.

I do not expect this committee to be long in its work – we know much of what we need to do – though some of the actions needed (including greater attention to diversity in hiring practices, curricular reform, and the modification of some rather exclusive traditions) may take a little longer. We’ve already done some of that – I’m very glad, for instance, that some grossly homophobic and sexually offensive songs that I chanted as a frosh in 1976 are no longer in general circulation.

One or two of you have written letters with concern that the university is being “politically correct.” I thank you for sharing your thoughts. My perspective is simply this: organizations must change, adapt, and remain in tune with social standards (and, ideally, lead on their progressive reform), just as they must change and adapt with respect to pedagogical practices or areas of research. Queen’s has changed, for the better, in many ways over the past quarter-century, and will continue to do so over the next 25 years. As I have said in this column repeatedly during the seven-and-a-half years of my principalship, a university is an evolving institution; if it stands still, it will not survive, let alone thrive.

2017 marks the latter half of our 175th anniversary as well as Canada’s 150th. Let us recommit ourselves to preserving our values but also to updating our traditions and becoming a more inclusive site of scholarship and learning.

This blog first appeared in the Queen’s Alumni Review (2017 Issue 1: Indigenous Issues and Experiences at Queen’s). Those interested in contributing to the discussion on racism, diversity, and inclusion at Queen’s are warmly encouraged to attend one of three upcoming community forums on these topics.

Queen’s Model Parliament: A learning opportunity like no other

The following is a guest blog written by Queen’s Model Parliament co-chairs Jasmine Lagundzija, (Artsci’18) and Brandon Jamieson, (Artsci’17).

For three days every January, 350 students from Queen’s University travel to Ottawa to participate in the country’s largest and oldest model Parliament conference. For the past 70 years, Queen’s Model Parliament (QMP) has given young Canadians the opportunity to engage with politics firsthand as they hone their debating skills and draft legislation to address some of the nation’s most pressing issues, all while seated in the House of Commons.

The conference begins in September, when more than 500 students from nearly every discipline apply for the opportunity to attend QMP. Then, through random lottery, 338 students have the opportunity to attend the conference as delegates. When they are admitted to the conference, they are bound to one of the five major political parties in Canada. After electing a party leader, the delegates are free to roam as party leaders canvass and campaign to have delegates join their party. After two weeks of campaigning and a leadership debate, delegates may either rejoin the party they were first bound to, or they may switch to a new party. As is practice by convention, the party with the most members will form government. Then, for four months, delegates meet weekly in their respective caucuses to draft legislation that will be debated on in full session of the House in January.

QMP4

Simultaneously, the QMP Journalism Program kicks off. Ten students are admitted to the conference to adopt the role of the press. While delegates are drafting legislation, canvasing for their party, and preparing for the conference, the journalists are interviewing, critiquing, and publishing their work in the bi-weekly Parliamentary Post. The Press Corp travels to Ottawa with the delegates and continue their work, holding our would-be-politicos to account for their policies. At the end of the conference, they are invited to attend a live-taping of CBC’s Power & Politics – a small reward for their work.

While in the House, guest speakers are invited to preside over debate on bills as Speakers of the House. Just this year we were privileged to welcome the Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, the Hon. Bill Morneau, British High Commissioner Howard Drake, Rosemary Barton, among countless others. After presiding over debate, speakers have the chance to share their own personal experiences and have a conversation with delegates.

QMP1

The bills presented at QMP are wide ranging in their scope and subject. They cover topics on everything from the environment, to Indigenous affairs, foreign affairs to the future of the CBC. However, the topic of bills tends to reflect the broader concerns of young Canadians today. How can we address the ever pressing threat posed by climate change? What is Canada’s role in a quickly adapting global political landscape? It is hard not to remain hopeful about the future of the country when students willingly choose to attend this conference to debate these issues, for no reason other than their own personal satisfaction. The solutions presented are often innovative, comprehensive, and occasionally humorous. However, this reflects a broader light-hearted tone delegates adopt when debating issues. Debate isn’t divisive and partisanship isn’t poisonous.

QMP3

The students leave with more than just the memories. The experience they have is just learning outside the classroom. They leave with a greater grasp on the legislative and procedural functions of our government and a more acute understanding of the complex issues we face as a nation. They hear of the value and importance of remaining engaged citizens through voting and community service. They appreciate the necessity of debate with equal parts respect and consideration. They have taken away skills that will continue to better them throughout their educational endeavours, their future careers, and, most importantly, as private citizens.

QMP2For us, as the co-chairs of this year’s conference, we had the privilege of working with a team of talented individuals and a network of hundreds of alumni to deliver this annual experience. Without hesitation, we volunteered 15 to 20 hours per week of our time on preparing for those three days. We were always motivated by the prospect that we were having at least a small, but hopefully a profound impact on the leaders of today and tomorrow. In our conversations with QMP alumni such as the Hon. Peter Milliken, the Hon. John Baird, and Nik Nanos, they frequently cite how their time at QMP shaped and inspired their desires to continue a life in politics. And for the past 70 years, there have been thousands of students just like them who drew on their time as students sitting in the House of Commons.

 

 

A look back on 2016

It has been a wonderful year at Queen’s University – one full of exciting announcements, unique challenges, and major milestones. As we head into the holidays, I’ve been looking back on some of my favourite moments of the past twelve months, and wanted to share a few of them with you.

January

The year started off with the announcement of a $4-million grant from the NSERC Discovery Frontiers Program for the Engineered Nickel Catalysts for Electrochemical Clean Energy (Ni Electro Can) research team, to develop the next generation of clean energy technologies. With 14 Canadian researchers, seven universities, nine international researchers from seven different countries, and a number of industry partners on board, the Ni Electro Can team is a perfect example of how collaboration enables researchers to remain at the forefront of discovery and propel Canadian research onto the world stage. Five of those 14 Canadian researchers are faculty members at Queen’s, including the team’s primary investigator, Dr. Gregory Jerkiewicz. The Honourable Dr. Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, Mr. Mark Gerretsen, Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands, and Dr. Mario Pinto, President of Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, all came to Queen’s University to celebrate the announcement.

Photo by Lars Hagberg


February

During a visit to the University of Otago in New Zealand in early February, I renewed a memorandum of understanding between the seven universities in the Matariki Network of Universities. I was also fortunate to meet with some fellow Queen’s alumni at a Matariki reception in Auckland.

Auckland Alumni with DW


March

It was an honour to celebrate the recognition of Nobel Laureate Dr. Art McDonald and his SNOLAB collaborators in the House of Commons in early March. The Nobel Prize is a result of the dedication of 273 collaborative scientists whose work was generously funded by numerous universities, industry, and government organizations, including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the National Research Council of Canada, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, and Industry Canada. Their discovery, which has fundamentally changed our view of the universe, would not have been possible without continued support from the Government of Canada.

Photo courtesy of the Prime Minister’s Office


April

In April, we unveiled Alfred and Isabel Bader’s historic donation to our arts centre – Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo. As one of the most significant contributions of art to a Canadian university in history, the painting dramatically elevates The Bader Collection and places the Agnes among the premier university art galleries in North America for the study of European art. The gift also raises the international profile of the historical European collection and of the Agnes as a whole, as our arts centre now holds three of the six Rembrandts in Canadian public collections. Alfred Bader (Sc’45, Arts’46, MSc’47, LLD’86) and Isabel Bader (LLD’07) are among Queen’s most generous benefactors, supporting the university for seven decades. They have given back to Queen’s in countless ways: transforming the campus, enriching the student experience, supporting scholarship, and helping to enhance the university’s reputation as a top-tier educational institution.

Photo by Garrett Elliott


May

The month of May was filled with convocation ceremonies, and in honour of Queen’s University’s 175th anniversary, we decided to celebrate the accomplishments of some of our most distinguished alumni in conferring honorary degrees. Four members of our city’s most beloved band, The Tragically Hip, joined us for our second of 21 convocation ceremonies on May 2. Dr. Gord Sinclair delivered a wonderful speech to the crowd, “Your greatest satisfaction, in every aspect of your life, will come from the interactions with the people you partner with and those to whom you provide help.”

Photo by Bernard Clark


June

The Annual Staff and Faculty Barbecue gives us a chance to step away from our offices and connect with colleagues from across campus. Seeing so many faces at the event in early June was a perfect reminder of just how many people work day in and day out to make Queen’s a great university.

JUNE _ BC

Photo by Bernard Clark


July

In July, I spent a few hours visiting with the researchers and staff at the Canadian Cancer Trials Group. I followed my visit with a tour of Dr. Madhuri Koti’s oncology lab in the Queen’s Cancer Research Institute – one of several lab tours I completed over the year. I have really enjoyed meeting researchers in person and seeing the tremendous work they are doing, and I’ve found the tours to be very helpful to me in advancing Queen’s reputation and profile for research with government, alumni, and donors.

Photo by Greg Black


August

Just before Orientation Week, our AMS executives hosted a Roundtable on Volunteering in the Community. I joined our new Provost, Dr. Benoit-Antoine Bacon, Carolyn Thompson, AMS VP of University Affairs, and Mayor Bryan Paterson on stage. We discussed how students could become better involved in the community and leverage those experiences later in life. In honour of Queen’s 175th anniversary, the AMS also announced that they were aiming for 175 years worth of volunteer service from Queen’s students over the 2016-17 year!

AMS Panel 1


September

Under clear skies and dazzling sunshine, 3,373 people turned out to Nixon Field on Sept. 6 to help Queen’s University set the Guinness World Record for largest human letter – a Q. All of the participants wore gold T-shirts provided by the organizers. The Q had a circumference of approximately 140 metres, with organizers mapping out the letter in advance using more than 300 metres of rope. The record attempt is a highlight of the university’s 175th anniversary celebrations. Hundreds of incoming students helped fill up a large portion of the Q along with other students, faculty, staff, and local community members.

Photo by Garrett Elliot


October

Queen’s University was incorporated by an Imperial Royal Charter issued by Queen Victoria on Oct. 16, 1841. The university marked the 175th anniversary of that historic occasion with a tree dedication in the Snodgrass Arboretum in front of Summerhill on Sunday, Oct. 16. Earlier in the day, University Historian Duncan McDowall and I visited St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, where we attended a special service that recognized the important role that church played in Queen’s early history. In this photo, I’m joined by Queen’s Elder in Residence, Mary Ann Spencer.

OCT


November

On Nov. 23, Mr. Seymour Schulich and I unveiled the Schulich-Woolf Rare Book Collection at Queen’s University, during a ceremony at the Queen’s Douglas Library. The collection, a combined 400 books, focuses on 16th-18th-century English history and culture but also includes volumes on travel, antiquities, and Canadiana. A titan of Canadian industry whose career spanned the financial services and mining sectors, Mr. Schulich has distinguished himself as a philanthropist over the last two decades, donating more than $350 million to universities and hospitals throughout Canada, the U.S., and Israel. In 2011, he launched the Schulich Leader Scholarships, a $100-million program that provides full scholarships to promising high school graduates with a passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Since the program’s inception, Queen’s has been a top-five destination for Schulich Leaders; fourteen of them have chosen to study at Queen’s. In this photo, Mr. Schulich (centre) and I look at one of the new displays with Alvan Bregman, Head, W.D. Jordan Rare Books and Special Collections.

NOV


December

Earlier this month, I hosted the annual Principal’s Holiday Reception where I honoured seven Queen’s staff members with Staff Recognition Awards. The awards recognize staff members who consistently provide outstanding contributions to the learning and working environment at Queen’s at a level significantly beyond what is usually expected. The 2016 Staff Recognition Award recipients are: Melinda Knox and Kelly Blair-Matuk, Office of the Vice-Principal (Research); Sandra McFadden, Office of the University Registrar (Student Awards); Sandra Murray, Centre for Teaching & Learning; Ben Seewald, Advancement – Alumni Relations; Deborah Smith, Office of the University Registrar (Exams Office); and Angela Street, Office of the University Registrar (Student Awards).

DEC

Of course, these are only twelve of a few hundred busy days around Queen’s University campus, but they are great reminders of what we’ve accomplished since January. I give my best wishes to you for a wonderful holiday break filled with friends, family and lots of rest and relaxation. See you all again in 2017!

On racism, diversity, and inclusion at Queen’s: Some thoughts and a proposed course of action

This has been a difficult week for many Queen’s community members. Periodically, our relatively quiet campus explodes in controversy. I’ve seen it happen a handful of times since I’ve been principal, each situation unique in its own right, but each almost invariably magnified by the potent influence of social media.

Last week, reports emerged of a costume party attended by Queen’s students that involved the unacceptable misappropriation and stereotyping of numerous cultures. This has understandably caused both anxiety and anger for many; it has also rekindled an important conversation in our community about the degree to which Queen’s is a welcoming and inclusive community.

While we are much more diverse than we once were, this incident has acted as an urgent reminder that Queen’s still has much work to do on these issues, and in particular on sensitizing all our community members to actions and behaviours that may seem harmless fun to many but which marginalize some members and make them feel unwelcome at our university. For that reason, I am forming an advisory group comprising students, faculty, and staff members to examine the issue of inclusivity at Queen’s and make both immediate and long-term recommendations for change.

Among other things, the advisory group will consult key stakeholders who work on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion to identify concrete steps to create and sustain a positive, constructive dialogue and identify educational and training needs. This group will consult widely and report back to me with recommendations by the end of the academic year.

This will not be the first group to look at diversity and inclusion at Queen’s, and so I understand that there may well be skepticism about its creation and ability to effect change. With that in mind, one of the first tasks of the group will be to review the work that has been done in the past, and determine if there are barriers that have prevented previous recommendations from being successfully implemented and how we can overcome these.

Last week, I asked the provost to gather as much information as possible about the party that prompted this discussion. An investigation is just that – it is not a “witch hunt,” as some have opined on social media, but simply due process. There is no doubt that the party in question made some of our community members feel upset, marginalized and degraded, and that the decisions made by some students were insensitive and exhibited very poor judgment. However, based on the information the provost has gathered, we have come to the conclusion that there should not be a formal punitive process undertaken through the Student Code of Conduct. This in itself would fix nothing. What is needed is a broader, sustained, and more meaningful conversation around these issues.

This is a very difficult subject, and many of you have strong feelings about how the university should proceed. However, as an educator and the principal of Queen’s, I am confident that the most effective way to address these issues is through education, discussion, and awareness. That is why the work of the advisory group, and the dialogue that will take place in the coming months, is so important.

Of the many conversations I’ve had with members of our community over the past several days, one conversation with an alumna in particular stands out. To paraphrase, she defined racism as a broader concept than many members of the general public are likely to acknowledge—one that includes not only obvious actions of discrimination and hatred, but also unconscious assumptions and opinions, and more subtle acts of disrespect. Perceptions of what “racism” includes are fluid, and they have evolved historically.

Within a progressive society such as a university, such definitions have also broadened over recent decades. But progressive communities acknowledge that definitions evolve, open themselves up to difficult conversations, and respect each other as the status quo is challenged. Sometimes it takes an event such as the recent costume party to make us re-evaluate our own assumptions, unconscious biases, use of terminology, and our sense of what is and what is not appropriate behaviour in a multicultural and inclusive community.

We have made great progress on many social issues at Queen’s over the years (mental health and sexual violence, for example) through dialogue and concrete, rather than symbolic, actions. I encourage everyone to share views in a constructive rather than a divisive way, with a focus on the wellbeing and success of all our community members. Change comes from conversation and education, and creating a culture of greater respect and understanding. I do not know at this juncture what our specific actions will be, other than that they do not include demonizing individuals who are members of our community. I do know that we need to find solutions, and I welcome your suggestions.