From March 1, 2017, John Fisher is serving as interim vice-principal (research) at Queen’s University. A professor and researcher in the Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, with a cross-appointment to the Department of Medicine (Respirology), Dr. Fisher most recently held the position of associate vice-principal (research), as well as director of research in the Faculty of Health Sciences.
Dr. Fisher sat down with the Gazette to discuss the priorities and goals for the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research) over the short term and further into the future.
GAZETTE: You have extensive experience both as a researcher in the health sciences and in administrative roles, including most recently as associate vice-principal (Research). Through this, what have you learned about research at Queen’s?
JOHN FISHER: What resonates with me is that our research is diverse, interdisciplinary and highly successful. These three aspects characterize the foundation of research at Queen’s, and they are the basis for our membership in the U15 group of Canadian research-intensive universities. Queen’s occupies a research leadership role as a U15 member, and the key objective now is to ensure that we continue to enhance our position in research both nationally and internationally.
Research is also the foundation of a transformative educational experience. Whether it’s fundamental research or applied, whether it’s particle astrophysics or whether it’s knowledge translation in a rehabilitation therapist’s teaching clinic, research provides a great educational experience. We pride ourselves at Queen’s on this experience, and it’s something that attracts students here.
So for me, it all comes back to this diverse, interdisciplinary, successful base of research that drives our educational experience.
QG: As interim vice-principal (Research), what are your priorities and how can you contribute to the research enterprise during this time?
JF: The budget process has delivered relative financial stability to most sectors of the institution. Deans are looking at faculty renewal, and this is a critical opportunity to enhance our research prominence. This is also an opportunity to enhance transformative areas of research that bridge the gap between one faculty and another. There are also great projects underway that embrace knowledge translation and knowledge mobilization across the university and with external partners.
The launch of the Canadian Particle Astrophysics Research Centre (CPARC), led by Professor Tony Noble, is an institutional priority that is one of the foundations of our research strategy. CPARC is an exciting opportunity for Queen’s to further demonstrate research excellence in this field. The centre will bring several new hires to Queen’s, and the searches are underway. Physics is an important focus in the coming months.
The other area that has really struck me over the last three years in the research portfolio is the importance of industry partnerships and technology transfer. This is a vast area that appears to grow in importance daily. It all starts with researchers mobilizing their discoveries to the next step, whatever that may be. It also includes researchers working directly with industry to come up with creative solutions to problems. This is a very important area to both the university and the government as it influences regional, provincial and national economic development. So this is an area that is a challenge, but one that is very enjoyable. Kingston appears to be on the brink of growth with respect to industry partnerships and tech transfer.
The Queen’s Strategic Research Plan is a foundational governing document that supports and guides the institutional research mission. Over the past five years it has supported the research landscape at Queen’s in a variety of ways – allowing us to enhance our research prominence through targeted areas of focus, successes in external funding, development of internal funding programs, engagement of trainees, and innovation and partnership activities.
The current iteration of the SRP will conclude at the end of 2017. Over the next several months, it will be reviewed and refreshed. Details about the intended overarching design of the renewed SRP; our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion; and the general schedule for community engagement and document revision can be found on the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research) website along with updates on timelines and process.
A draft SRP will be presented to Senate for review and feedback.
For more information, read this related Gazette article.
QG: What challenges are ahead for you and the research portfolio?
JF: Funding is clearly one, and we need to think creatively about solutions that work with government and industry partners. The deans are launching some very interesting programs, and you can see how each of them is thinking about how to catalyze research in their faculties. They are being very strategic in how they do that, ensuring their programs have the best potential to secure Tri-Council funding or to develop industry partnerships and innovation.
Another challenge will be how we approach research digital infrastructure. Whether it’s the social sciences, education, engineering, arts and science, or medicine, all are influenced enormously by computing and the ability to pursue sophisticated analytics. Traditionally, universities have thought about digital infrastructure as a vehicle to deliver education. However, the research landscape has continued to grow and requires additional capacity and sophistication with respect to research infrastructure. An example includes the role of our Vice-Provost and University Librarian, Martha Whitehead, who is a leader in Canada with respect to data management and how we develop data management plans. There is a renewed Centre for Advanced Computing, led by Don Aldridge, which is building digital research infrastructure for faculty research.
QG: In 2016, Queen’s conducted an external review of research and related innovation programs, platforms and structures at the university. What do you see as the key recommendations that came out of the process?
JF: The response to the research review has many moving parts. There were 13 recommendations that came out of that review, and there has been action on a number of them. A key recommendation is faculty renewal, which will drive our research performance.
An integral part of the renewal will be to embrace equity, diversity and inclusion in the pursuit of new faculty members and their research expertise. The Principal’s Implementation Committee on Racism, Diversity, and Inclusion (PICRDI) has held a series of town halls that clearly highlight the benefits. This is also true within the broader research sphere, where equity, diversity and inclusion provide additional input and perspectives for success. The federal government is directing institutions to think proactively about how we can enhance diversity and inclusion within the Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) or Canada Research Chairs (CRC) programs. Ultimately this will influence how the research portfolio looks at our CRCs and our CERCs and this work parallels the great work that the PICRDI is doing.
In response to the external review, we’re soon going to launch the renewal of the Strategic Research Plan (SRP) and I would encourage the engagement of faculty, students and staff to help us revise the SRP because this is going to drive where we go in the future.