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Graduate Studies

Harnessing the digital transformation

Engage with faculty and graduate researchers on the multi-disciplinary impact of digital technologies during the virtual Queen’s Digitalization Research Conference.

[Photo of an art installation by fabio courtesy of Unsplash]

In recent years, digital technologies have come to play a progressively integral role in nearly all interactions in our day-to-day lives, from business to politics, health, education, culture, and society. The take-over of Zoom, for instance, in our shift from in-person to remote work and school, provides an excellent example of just how influential digital technologies can become in shaping our lives.

Spanning a wide variety of sectors, technology-enabled transformation is a phenomenon that has produced research across a similarly diverse set of disciplines here at Queen’s.

In order to create a space for faculty and graduate students to connect and present their research on digitalization in our society, the Queen’s University Digital Transformation Research Group has organized its first annual Digitalization Research Conference, on Friday, Oct. 22. The virtual conference aims to bring together researchers from across disciplines to facilitate collaboration and knowledge exchange amongst students and faculty. The long-term goal is to build upon this collaboration as an important step towards making Queen’s a thought-leader in Canada on digitalization.

The conference is supported by two faculty sponsors: Kathryn Brohman (Smith School of Business), Distinguished Faculty Fellow of Digital Technology, and Martin Hand (Sociology).Queen’s PhD students Patrick Egbunonu (Smith School of Business) and Spencer Huesken (Sociology) are the conference co-chairs.

“The conference will not only translate into future research productivity, but it will also identify cross-disciplinary opportunities for future programs and make Queen’s the ‘go to’ place for policymakers and media,” says Dr. Brohman.

The conference will touch on the themes of technology’s impact on power dynamics, digitalization of work, industry and practice, and social implications of digitalization, data, and information. It also features a presentation by keynote speaker Jan Recker who holds the position of Nucleus Professor for Information Systems and Digital Innovation in the Hamburg Business School at the University of Hamburg. By exploring the intersection of people, technology and organizations, Recker’s work tries to understand how technology design and process thinking can help solve complex problems.

Following the presentations, participants are welcome to join the Digital@Queen’s Hangout, which is meant to provide graduate students with an opportunity to connect socially and share ideas in a more informal forum.

Dr. Brohman stresses the importance of fostering a space for inter-disciplinary collaboration.

“Students and faculty across disciplines are doing amazing work in digitalization and we hope that by starting a conversation, Queen’s will identify ways to make their work more impactful.”  By designating the conference as “pan-Queen’s”, conference leaders are taking a ‘bottom up’ approach to motivating high quality and high impact research as opposed to ‘top-down’ efforts that try to get cross-disciplinary faculty to collaborate.”

The Friday, Oct. 22 event is free and open to the public with registration and full schedule available on Eventbrite. You can find more information about the conference on their website and you can follow them on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter for updates and highlights.

Graduate students recognized for community impact, academic excellence

Four current PhD students at Queen’s have been named winners of the School of Graduate Studies’ Award in Leadership, Innovation, and Community Engagement.

Maram Assi (Computing), Martina Jakubchik-Paloheimo (Geography and Planning), Morgan Lehtinen (Chemistry), and Rohit Shukla (Civil Engineering), were selected for the award, which recognizes graduate students who are “making a meaningful difference in the world while also demonstrating the highest standards of academic excellence.” The award is valued at $5,000.

Applications were reviewed by the Dean and Associate Deans of the School of Graduate Studies. Winners were selected for taking a significant leadership role with demonstrable impact, including: creating and sharing knowledge that supports societal improvements; promoting public interests as a social impact leader, with an emphasis on equity, diversity, inclusion, and indigeneity; entrepreneurial achievements and innovation in areas such as health, socio-economic development or the environment that address key social issues; and civic engagement such as involvement in volunteer organizations at Queen’s or in the broader community.

“The achievements of each of these winners serve as a testament to the impact that graduate students can have during and beyond their time at Queen’s,” says Fahim Quadir, Vice-Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies. “The selection committee was thoroughly impressed by the caliber of applicants whose passion, determination, and humanity shone through in their applications. We look forward to continuing to celebrate these students as they forge new ways to leave their mark on the world.”

To learn more about the Award in Leadership, Innovation, and Community Engagement, email mailto:sgscomms@queensu.ca.

Queen’s students awarded national scholarships

Eight doctoral students earn prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships for exceptional scholarly achievement and leadership skills.

Collage of Vanier scholars
Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship recipients (clockwise from top left): Ryan Kirkpatrick, Emmanuelle LeBlanc, Isabelle Grenier-Pleau, Shannon Clarke, Stephanie Woolridge, Saskia de Wildt, Maram Assi, and Hannah Hunter.

Eight Queen’s students have earned Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships, one of Canada’s most prestigious awards for doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows. Jointly funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), these scholarships recognize individuals who have demonstrated exceptional scholarly achievement and leadership skills in a variety of fields. Scholars receive $50,000 per year for three years of study and research.

“We are honoured and excited to host this year’s Vanier recipients, scholars who have left their mark on their respective fields by ascending to new heights of academic excellence and leadership achievement,” says Fahim Quadir, Vice-Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies. “Queen’s is delighted to play its part in supporting our Vanier scholars by providing them with new opportunities to refine their research skills, advance their academic and professional goals, and engage with our vast network of researchers spanning the globe. I look forward to getting to know our scholars and learning of their plans to continue working towards the betterment of society during their time with us and beyond.”

This year’s recipients span numerous specialties and departments. They include:

CIHR-Funded Projects:

Emmanuelle LeBlanc (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) - Developing glycan-based antiviral prophylactics to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections

Ryan Kirkpatrick (Neuroscience) - Detecting eating disorder biomarkers in youth via video-based eye tracking

Stephanie Woolridge (Psychology) - Improving diagnostic accuracy in early psychosis: Differentiating the neuropsychological profiles of cannabis-induced and primary psychotic disorders in a 12-month follow-up study

NSERC-Funded Projects:

Isabelle Grenier-Pleau (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) - Investigating the role of extracellular vesicles in hematopoietic stem cell maintenance

Maram Assi (Computing) - Developing an intelligent bug fix recommender system

SSHRC-Funded Projects:

Saskia de Wildt (Environmental Studies) - Exploring polar bear research as ethical space, practice, and process of engagement

Shannon Clarke (Geography and Planning) - New spaces, new subjectivities: Caribbean women in Canada and Black diasporic productions of space

Hannah Hunter (Geography and Planning) - Listening to birds at the end of the world: A historical geography of bird sound recording and a sound art project for human-avian futures

For more information about the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship Program, visit the website.

Celebrating Queen’s spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation

Queen’s receives the Deshpande Symposium Award for The Entrepreneurial University for its curriculum innovation and student engagement.

Every Spring, the Deshpande Foundation hosts the Deshpande Symposium on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education, which brings together academics, policy planners, practitioners, business incubators, and foundations to discuss best practices in integrating entrepreneurship throughout their college and university communities.

At this year’s virtual gathering, Queen’s University received the Deshpande Symposium Award for The Entrepreneurial University. This award celebrates an institution that demonstrates excellence in entrepreneurship-related curriculum innovation and student engagement.

"Entrepreneurship has become an important means by which we fulfill our obligations of positive societal impact, to the regional community in which it is embedded, and in global society," says Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor.

Queen’s was unanimously voted as the 2021 recipient of this honour for fostering a culture of innovation throughout its many curricular and extra-curricular offerings.

Curricular Offerings in Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The university’s academic and curricular programs of study make entrepreneurship and innovation a priority at all levels. Undergraduate and graduate students across Queen’s are exposed to entrepreneurship and related topics in a broad range of sectors across disciplines. Some courses engage students in team-based venture projects in for-profits contexts, while others, like the Arts and Science "Dean’s Changemaker" courses ASCX200/300, give them opportunities to identify and pursue entrepreneurial solutions to pressing societal problems. The Dean’s Changemaker program supported 12 students in its pilot run and is expected to grow to 50 students per year.

Curricular delivery prioritizes interdisciplinarity. The Certificate in Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Creativity (CEIC), offered by the Dan School of Drama and Music, is taught not only by faculty from the Dan School but also from the Smith School of Business and the faculties of Arts and Science and Engineering and Applied Science. These pan-university partnerships persist even at senior levels of education and training. The blended format Master of Management of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (MMIE), for example, is a joint collaboration between Business and Engineering and offers networking opportunities with other programs across campus. Since its inception five years ago, 420 students representing 25 countries globally have completed the program, which now accepts 114 students/cohort. MMIE participants have created 89 start-ups and scale-ups, collectively raising $750,000 and employing 112 people. By placing a strong emphasis on interdisciplinarity, Queen’s has been able to increase each individual unit’s capacity for providing immersive programming, thereby fostering development of entrepreneurial mindsets.

[Photo of the QICSI 2019 cohort at Mitchell Hall]
The 2019 Queen’s Innovation Centre Summer Initiative (QICSI) cohort at Mitchell Hall.

Co- and Extra-Curricular Offerings in Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The university also offers numerous co- and extra-curricular opportunities in entrepreneurship and innovation, many of which are provided and/or coordinated through the Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre (DDQIC) and Queen’s University’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI). DDQIC was founded in 2012, following a significant gift jointly provided by distinguished alumni Andrew Dunin, Sc ’83, MBA ‘87, and his wife Anne Dunin, ArtSci ‘83, and Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, PhD ‘79, and his wife Jaishree Deshpande. 

DDQIC collaborates with schools and faculties, assisting in the development and delivery of many co-curricular programs across campus. The centre runs the Queen’s Innovation Centre Summer Initiative (QICSI), a 16-week full-time program in which participants complete a two-week boot camp and receive seed capital to found and build ventures. Since 2012, DDQIC has mentored 460 changemakers in QICSI and helped students launch and grow 200 ventures, 50% of which are still in operation, including Mosaic Manufacturing, CleanSlate UV, and RockMass Technologies. The part-time DDQIC QyourVenture program operates year-long and supports early stage start-ups by providing foundation and mentorship. Furthermore, DDQIC prioritizes innovators and leaders from underrepresented groups through its Konnect program for women entrepreneurs and the Jim Leech MasterCard Foundation Fellowship for young African entrepreneurs. 

QPI supports programming through workshops targeting thematic areas and groups (e.g. health, research-based graduate students) and in sector-targeted and IP/commercialization-advising roles. It provides an accelerator facility for growing ventures, complementing DDQIC’s QICSI, and offers linkages to other ecosystems, notably the Kingston-Syracuse Pathway in Health Innovation, Invest Ottawa, the Toronto-based Technology Innovation Accelerator Program, and L-Spark. Since 2014, QPI has supported 300 entrepreneurs and 150 ventures.

Student engagement extends beyond Queen’s as DDQIC, QPI, and their partner organizations deliver entrepreneurship-geared educational outreach programs, providing translational career and leadership skills to high school students in the Kingston area and globally.

The university received the award as part of a ceremony on June 10, 2021.  

Training Canada’s future health data workforce

With $1.6 million in funding, NSERC’s CREATE program is supporting the implementation of an experiential graduate training and research program in medical informatics at Queen’s.

[Photo of Parvin Mousavi]
Dr. Parvin Mousavi (Computing) is the Director of Queen's new CREATE Training Program in Medical Informatics.

Queen’s researcher Parvin Mousavi (Computing) and her co-investigators have been awarded $1.6 million in funding over six years as part of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) program. The fund supports the training and mentoring of students and post-doctoral fellows in developing academic and industry skills in areas such as research, communications, and collaboration. The objective is to encourage collaborative and integrative approaches to addressing Canada’s research priorities while also fostering job readiness skills for trainees across sectors.

Leaders in their fields
This unique CREATE program is led by 11 leading research experts in computing, machine learning, medical and imaging informatics, data analytics, software systems, and surgery. In addition to Dr. Mousavi, they include Drs. Randy Ellis, Gabor Fichtinger, Ting Hu, John Rudan, Amber Simpson, David Pichora, Yuan Tian, Boris Zevin, and investigators at Western University, Drs. Aaron Fenster and Sarah Mattonen.

Dr. Mousavi’s CREATE grant will support a training program in medical informatics, preparing Canada’s workforce to handle the health data of tomorrow. Since 2017 at least 86 per cent of family physicians in Canada use Electronic Medical Records, generating vast digital health data at an exponential rate. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated on a global scale the significance of digital health data and its interpretation to decision-making at all levels of healthcare. In fact, the pandemic has led to an acceleration on the part of the federal and provincial governments in Canada to invest in digital-first health strategies and high-performance computing platforms. The CREATE program will aim to further leverage data-driven decision-making in current and future public health responses.

Canada is not alone in the rapid accumulation of digital health data. By 2050, the global markets for artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare and medical informatics are forecasted to grow to a combined $134 billion. Just to meet Canada’s immediate needs, the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) predicts at least 120,000 skilled workers in computational sciences will be required by 2023 to support the health and biotechnology sector alone. Currently, most graduate computer science programs in Canada follow a course+thesis model where there is limited access to training and field experience in machine learning for healthcare informatics. With Dr. Mousavi’s leadership, Queen’s will be home to a unique CREATE program providing comprehensive training in medical informatics, experiential learning, and skills development to prepare students for careers in this rapidly developing sector. 

"We aim to solidify Canada’s competitive advantage in the global space through concerted efforts to train computer scientists with specialized multi-disciplinary experience in medical informatics and digital health, and engage diverse groups and experiences in our training," says Dr. Mousavi. "Our aim is to not just train students for jobs immediately after graduation but prepare them for success throughout their careers."

Dr. Mousavi and her co-investigators have collaboratively developed the NSERC CREATE training program in consultation with key industry and government stakeholders to augment the course+thesis model with opportunities for experiential learning, practicums, mentorship, and competency-based training to help students gain these critically needed skillsets. During the program, students will have training opportunities with extensive real-world clinical data through partnerships with the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the Ontario Health Data Platform, and the Canadian Cancer Trials Group at Queen’s. The program also leverages partnerships with Western University and Kingston Health Sciences Centre, and collaborations with industry and academia including the Vector Institute alongside Queen’s-based research infrastructure and expertise at the Centre for Advanced Computing, the Human Mobility Research Centre, and KGH Research Institute.

The NSERC CREATE grant is just the beginning, with Dr. Mousavi and her co-investigators already planning for long-term sustainability of the program. Through the advancement of partnerships, establishment of courses and micro-credentials, and development of research projects and funding, they aim to continue the comprehensive training program following the grant and help build a hub of excellence in healthcare informatics and data analysis at Queen’s.

"Congratulations to Dr. Mousavi and her co-investigators on securing this competitive funding that advances connections between research and training opportunities," says Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research). "The program builds on an area of institutional interdisciplinary strength and will help position Canada to leverage heath data in decision- and policy-making."

For more information on projects and recruitment, visit the program website or email infoMedICREATE@cs.queensu.ca.

For more information on the CREATE program and training opportunities, visit the NSERC website

Celebrating the Class of 2021

Queen’s congratulates graduates on success in the face of unprecedented challenges.

Another academic year at Queen’s is now complete and more than 5,800 students have a big reason to celebrate, now that they have officially graduated. To help mark these achievements, the university is sharing a video message to offer congratulations to graduates and highlight their achievements and perseverance in the face of challenges posed by COVID-19.

“These have been unprecedented times, and very difficult times in which to bring an end to your course of study,” says Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, in his remarks. “That you’ve done so in such circumstances is remarkable, and therefore all the more admirable and deserving of our congratulations.”

With strict public health measures still in place in Ontario, on-site convocation events have had to be postponed, with plans to offer in-person ceremonies later once guidelines permit. As vaccination programs continue across the country, and return to campus planning well underway, Queen’s is hopeful that ceremonies missed in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic can be held.

“I’m so honoured to be able to offer you my most sincere congratulations on the completion of your degree at Queen’s,” says Kanonhsyonne Janice Hill, Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation), who joined Principal Deane in the video. “It’s been a very challenging year, but you persevered and succeeded. You should be very proud of yourself for doing so.”

While opportunities to host future in-person ceremonies are explored, graduates can expect to receive their diplomas by mail in the coming weeks, and the names of conferred degree recipients are being shared online by the Office of the University Registrar marking their official graduation. Several faculties and schools are planning virtual events or gestures of recognition in the near term.

“I’m so pleased to celebrate the successful conclusion to your studies and recognize your earned degree, diploma or certificate,” Chancellor Jim Leech says, making the final congratulatory remarks in the video.  “You should be proud of your accomplishment and that you are now a full-fledged Queen’s alum.”

For more information on Spring 2021 graduation, please visit the office of the University Registrar's website.

Innovating to improve virtual teaching and learning

Queen’s is receiving funding from the Government of Ontario for the creation of digital educational material for students in many different areas of the university.

As the past academic year has shown, digital innovations in teaching and learning can have a powerful effect on both students and instructors. Queen’s will now be developing 32 projects to improve online education at the university thanks to over $2 million in funding from the Government of Ontario's Virtual Learning Strategy (VLS) initiative, which is supported by eCampusOntario.

“Queen’s success in securing Virtual Learning Strategy funding shows the dedication of our faculty and staff to pursuing innovative methods to enhance teaching and learning, especially as the pandemic has forced us to adapt to virtual models of course delivery,” says Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) John Pierce. “Even once it is safe to return to in-person instruction, the new materials created by this funding will support the teaching and learning environment at Queen’s for years to come.”

The VLS funding enables Queen’s to produce a variety of new online educational resources, including full courses and training modules, that will benefit students at many levels and in many different areas of the university. The Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science (FEAS), the Faculty of Arts and Science (FAS), the Faculty of Health Sciences, the Faculty of Education, the School of Graduate Studies, and the Regional Assessment and Resource Centre all submitted successful projects.

The digital educational material will teach students about a wide array of topics, including robotics, artificial intelligence, race and migration in Canada, and sustainability.

The funded projects will also support several areas of focus across the university, including equity, diversity, inclusion, and Indigenization (EDII). One project, “Modular Supports for Underrepresented Individuals to Access Internships and Work Integrated Learning,” will create modules that can be strategically integrated into relevant programs across Ontario to improve equitable access and inclusivity. The project is a joint initiative from FEAS, FAS, Career Services, the Human Rights and Equity office, and external collaborators.

The Provincial Virtual Learning Strategy

The VLS initiative was announced in December 2020 as a $50 million investment by the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities intended to drive growth and advancement in virtual learning across the province’s post-secondary institutions.

eCampusOntario is a provincially-funded non-profit organization that leads a consortium of the province’s 48 publicly-funded colleges, universities, and Indigenous institutes to develop and test online learning tools to advance the use of education technology and digital learning environments.

Learn more about the VLS on the eCampusOntario website.

Working together to support the community

Teams of PhD students work together to address key issues facing the Kingston and Queen's communities through the PhD-Community Initiative.

PhD-Community Initiative
Queen's PhD students Nancy Fynn-Sackey helps present her team's project as part of the annual PhD-Community Initiative, hosted by the School of Graduate Studies. 

When Queen’s University and the City of Kingston work together, good things happen.

With both communities facing the new challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual PhD-Community Initiative pivoted to address key issues while at the same time fostering ties between Queen’s and the city with a focus on collaboration, community, and creativity.

Through the program, four teams of doctoral students worked with the City of Kingston on a series of projects related to the priorities of the Mayor’s Kingston Economic Recovery Team (KERT), while addressing the big question: How do we increase the community resilience that is required to support economic and social recovery post-COVID-19?

Participants came from across the university with a wide range of research areas and expertise and were formed into interdisciplinary teams.

“Our students have continuously demonstrated the talent, energy, and enthusiasm needed to fuel positive change by applying the skills and knowledge gained in graduate studies to addressing challenges beyond the academic arena,” says Fahim Quadir, Vice-Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies. “At the same time they are giving back to the community in meaningful ways that will have long-lasting effects.”

Starting in September, the teams met on a weekly basis and have been supported by a mentor, most of whom are retired faculty members. Joined by Mayor Bryan Paterson, the program culminated on Monday, April 19 as each of the teams made their final presentations for their projects to a broad audience from within Queen’s and the wider Kingston community. The capstone event was hosted virtually and the presentations will be available online.

“The Queen’s PhD-Community Initiative has been an important annual opportunity for both students and community organizations to connect and create impact in our community,” says Mayor Bryan Paterson. “With the pandemic, the need is even greater for our community to come together to support each other, particularly those in social and economic distress. The four PhD teams collaborating with our Economic Recovery Working Groups have made significant contributions to advancing recovery and resilience in Kingston. I look forward to continuing to build strong relationships with graduate students at Queen’s.”

In fact, the Queen's PhD-Community Initiative's success bolstered Queen's successful submission to Times Higher Education's Impact Rankings, in which the university ranked 1st in Canada and 5th in the world for progress toward the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.

Supporting the community

For the participating doctoral students, the initiative not only provides an opportunity to support the community that is their home but also to learn new skills and apply the ones they have developed at Queen’s, while also making new connections within the university and city.

In addition to supporting the community, making valuable connections, and learning new skills, the students participating in the PhD-Community Initiative also complete several workshops designed to enhance their abilities and improve their project outcomes.

Some students have enjoyed their experience so much that they have participated in the program twice. Hannah Ascough, a PhD candidate in Global Development Studies, participated last year as a student and signed up again this year as a co-mentor, and learning new skills around leadership and managing teams.

“I initially involved myself in the program to connect and learn from students in other disciplines, and hear their perspectives on research, school and community engagement,” she says. “The PhD-Community Initiative certainly fostered these rich, lasting friendships; however, my experience was also rewarded by the connections our team made with our community partners. Through our project, I learned firsthand how creative interdisciplinary research is, and saw how it can be mobilized to make positive, long-lasting change. I have loved all my experiences with the initiative, and recommend it for anyone looking to engage with other graduate students, and give back to their community.”

For more information about the PhD-Community Initiative program, visit the Expanding Horizons website.

PROJECTS

PhD United (Resilient Kingston) 
The aim of Resilient Kingston is to encourage and study resilience during the pandemic by offering members of the community a chance to connect with one another and share their experiences and perspectives in online focus groups. Participants discussed their perceptions of Kingston’s response to COVID-19, as well as topics related to making and maintaining social connections, adapting both personally and professionally, becoming more aware of privilege, and finding ways to safely engage with the community and its institutions during the pandemic.

TRIADS (Training and Reskilling Individuals through Actionable Deliverables that are Sustainable)
The TRIADS group’s goal is to empower the Kingston arts and creative community through upskilling opportunities post COVID-19. The group conducted a literature search and conducted interviews with local artists and faculty to determine the needs of the Kingston arts community. The recommendation for the city is an entrepreneurial program containing mentorship, continuous engagement, and experiential learning.

KOG (Kingston Outreach Group)
The pandemic is an excellent opportunity for PhD students to give back to the Kingston community. The KOG team focused on finding ways to better understand and support individuals who are working and yet still living in poverty. 

C5 (Community COVID Concerns Communicated Consciously)
Through a survey completed by more than 2,000 people in the Kingston area, the C5 team investigated consumer habits and associated perceptions of risk during the pandemic and pre-pandemic. It is hoped that the findings will help Kingston businesses (and the city) to better understand the concerns of the community and provide responsive services and support. 

A recording of the event will be available soon on the School of Graduate Studies’ YouTube page.

Transforming the global academy

Principal Patrick Deane on how the SDGs are helping break down silos, provoke dialogue, and unite us all in a common global purpose.

[Photo of Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane]
Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Queen's University

As a member of the international group tasked with updating the Magna Charta Universitatum – the declaration of university freedoms and principles that was first signed in Bologna in 1988 – I am struck by the extent to which the intervening three decades have altered the global consensus about the nature and function of universities. Where the original document spoke eloquently to the fundamental values of the academy, the new Magna Charta Universitatum 2020 reaffirms those values but also expands upon their social function and utility. I would summarise the shift this way: we have moved from an understanding of universities as defined primarily by their ability to transcend historical contingency to a more complicated view, which asserts that timeless principles such as academic freedom and institutional autonomy are the platform from which the academy must engage with history.

If the situation in Europe and around the world in 1988 made it important to speak up for the freedoms without which teaching and research would be impoverished, by 2020 it had become equally important to speak of the responsibilities incumbent on institutions by virtue of the privileges accorded to them. The reality of rapid climate change has brought urgency and authority to this new view of universities, as have parallel trends in the social, cultural, and political climate, and “education for sustainable development” has emerged as the increasingly dominant model for global higher education – one which fuses the concerns of environment, society, and economy.  

Recent columns in Times Higher Education have admirably described the diverse ways in which the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been intrinsic to this reorientation of the global academy: as a rallying point for students and staff, as an accountability framework, and as a global language for political action, for example. Here at Queen’s University, the SDGs have been an important frame for our current planning process, and in all of those ways have influenced the manner in which we understand and wish to articulate our mission.

At one point in the process, an influential and valued friend of the university expressed some irritation to me about the way in which the SDGs had come to dominate and disrupt the university’s normally untroubled and inwardly-focused dialogue with itself about mission and values. “And in any case,” came the throwaway dismissal, “there’s nothing original or new about aligning with the SDGs.” Of course, that is true in 2021, but is it relevant? If a university is able to maximise its global impact, does the inherent originality or novelty of its planning parameters matter? In such exchanges – still occurring, I’m certain, on campuses everywhere – we can see that the changing consensus about which I wrote at the start is not yet complete.

It seems to me, in fact, that much of the value of the SDGs as an organising framework for universities resides in their not being proprietary or “original” to one institution, or to an exclusive group of institutions. It has often been pointed out that they now provide a shared language which helps universities in diverse geographical, political, and socio-economic locations understand and build upon the commonality of their work in both teaching and research. Adoption of the SDGs, however variously that is done from institution to institution, is turning the “global academy” from a rhetorical to a real construct, and I can’t imagine why it would be in the interests of any university to hold itself aloof from that transformation. Having watched our planning process unfold at Queen’s over the last two years, I can confirm that what the SDGs do at the global level, they do also at the level of the individual institution, providing a common language that provokes and sustains dialogue – not only between disciplines, but between the academic and non-academic parts of the operation.

I want to end by commenting on the excitement generated when siloes are broken open and when people and units understand how they are united with others in a common purpose and in service to the greater good. To cultivate that understanding has been the primary objective of planning at Queen’s for the last two years, and preparing our first submission to the Impact Rankings has been an intrinsic part of that process of learning and self-discovery. Naturally, we are delighted and excited by where we find ourselves in the rankings, but we are energised in a more profound way by the knowledge of what synergies and collaborations exist or appear possible both within our university and in the global academy.

The first 16 SDGs point to the areas in which we want to have impact. The 17th tells us what the whole project is really all about: acting in community for the communal good.

This op-ed was originally published in the Times Higher Education supplement.  

Queen’s community comes together to illustrate social impact

THE Impact Rankings submission measures the university’s overall contribution to global sustainability.

[Graphic image with a "Q" of the Queen's community]

Times Higher Education (THE), the organization best known for its World University Rankings, sees universities as representing the greatest hope of solving the most urgent global challenges. In 2019, they moved to create the Impact Rankings – an inclusive evaluation of post-secondary institutions’ commitments to positive social and economic impact measured against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This year, out of more than 1,200 participating institutions worldwide, Queen’s placed first in Canada and fifth globally in the 2021 Impact Rankings. It is the first time Queen’s has participated in this ranking exercise, and our performance is a result of the campus community’s united effort to create a comprehensive submission package for Impact Rankings adjudicators.

THE Impact Rankings

While many traditional ranking processes are designed with research-intensive universities in mind, the Impact Rankings are open to any institution teaching at the undergraduate or post-graduate level. Using the SDGs as a means of gauging a university’s performance, THE developed a methodology involving 105 metrics and 220 measurements, carefully calibrated to provide comprehensive and balanced comparisons between institutions across four broad areas: research, stewardship, outreach, and teaching.

“The Impact Rankings are unlike any other ranking. They offer a global platform to acknowledge and celebrate the partnerships integral to advancing international initiatives, developing the leaders of tomorrow, and working towards an inclusive, diverse, and sustainable future,” says Michael Fraser, Vice-Principal (University Relations) and co-chair of the Queen’s Impact Rankings Steering Committee. “On behalf of the Steering Committee, thank you to the community for your support and collaboration in advancing this initiative.”

In their submissions, universities must demonstrate progress toward meeting at least three SDGs, as well as toward SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals. THE evaluates each institution’s submission, drawing on the quantitative and qualitative data provided, as well as bibliometric research datasets provided by Elsevier, a data and analytics company.

The Queen’s Submission – A Community Effort

“Participating in the Impact Rankings requires self-reflection. We are asked to contemplate our current impact and think about what we want to achieve for the future,” says Sandra den Otter, Vice-Provost (International) and co-chair of the Queen's Impact Rankings Steering Committee. “These results testify to the work we have done together. I hope this is a moment for recognizing the progress we have made, and to furthering our aspirations as a university and as members of a global community committed to change.”

To lead its submission process, Queen’s established a Steering Committee, Project Team, and Working Group, comprised of leadership, staff, and faculty from across the university. This team set about gathering over 600 unique pieces of evidence, representing the efforts of over 70 departments and portfolios. Queen’s chose to submit evidence in support of all 17 SDGs – a decision that led to top-100 rankings in 14 of 17 SDGs, including top-10 in three categories (Zero Hunger, Sustainable Cities, and Life on Land) and being ranked first – globally – for SDG 1: No Poverty and SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. 

Metrics and measurements were unique for each SDG, with each goal requiring a specific combination of quantitative and qualitative data. The quantitative evidence integrated research bibliometric data and key words that measured number of publications, co-authors, and field-weighted citations. Other quantitative measurements looked at water consumption per capita, energy and food waste measurements, university expenditure on arts and culture, the number of first-generation university students, and number of employees from equity-seeking groups.

Qualitative evidence spanned institutional policies and individual courses, to the missions of research centres and institutes, community volunteer initiatives, and strategic plans, all demonstrating how we are advancing the SDGs. Metrics often required evidence of local, national, and global-reaching initiatives to illustrate full impact.

More than 400 internal links pointing to Queen’s websites were supplied as publicly accessible evidence of Queen’s research, outreach, teaching, and stewardship efforts. Additionally, nearly 100 external links were included in the submission, each reflecting the university’s extensive partnerships: internally with student-led clubs, locally with Sustainable Kingston and United Way KFL&A, nationally with the Government of Canada, and globally with the Matariki Network of Universities.

Learn more about Queen’s performance in the Times Higher Education 2021 Impact Rankings.

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