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From the principal: Strengthening the research culture at Queen’s

From the principal: Strengthening the research culture at Queen’s

We all know that Queen’s offers a fantastic student experience, inside and outside the classroom (it can of course always be made better, and we’ve made considerable progress on a number of fronts in recent years, with our increased support for experiential education and for student mental and physical health).

But we’re also a research-intensive university, a member of the original Canadian G-10 group of research universities (now the U15), and have, for our size, a relatively high proportion of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers within our community. We have forged institutional partnerships with leading universities across the globe, and our faculty are increasingly involved in major collaborative research initiatives. Our faculty regularly achieve major national recognition such as elevation to the Royal Society of Canada or most recently the Molson Prize, awarded to Professor John McGarry.

This year, we made a major breakthrough in international awards with Art McDonald’s Nobel Prize, the ultimate recognition, not only of the work of Art and his collaborators within and outside Queen’s, but also for the vision of the SNO experiment’s earliest advocates, 30 years ago. As I said in a previous column, we’d like more of these. To get there, however, to become a university as recognized internationally for the outstanding quality of its research in several fields, we need to raise our game a bit, and we will need to make some choices.

Earlier this year, Vice-Principal (Research) Steven Liss and I commissioned an external review of our research enterprise and in particular of administrative support for it in order to help us develop a clearer roadmap for research prominence. At time of writing, that report had not yet been received, but I fully expect it to provide some useful suggestions for improvement. We will also be updating our Strategic Research and Academic Plans later this year. Stay tuned to this column for updates and progress reports.

I have spoken often of Queen’s distinctive role as a ‘balanced academy’. In that balance, research and the student experience should be regarded as complementary, not oppositional. A renewed commitment to developing a research culture needs to involve everyone, including our undergraduate students who hunger for more opportu-nities to conduct research on their own or as part of a team. I still get a thrill recalling my first time in the Queen’s Archives working for the late Professor George Rawlyk in 1979‚€‚. Such opportunities need to be available across the university, and not just in large labs of our STEM departments and institutes.

[Principal Woolf with Madhury Koti and Nichole Peterson
Principal Woolf with Madhuri Koti and Nichole Peterson in Professor Koti's lab at the Cancer Research Institute. (Photo by Greg Black)

Meanwhile, this magazine will continue to feature some of our ground-breaking research. One of our strongest areas, profiled in this issue, is cancer research, both basic science and the clinical testing of drugs. Earlier this summer I was treated to a tour of the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, a multi-university collaboration headquartered at Queen’s, and of Professor Madhuri Koti’s lab in the Cancer Research Institute. All of these endeavours included undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral researchers as well as faculty and staff. It was yet another reminder that research, like teaching, is a combination of individual insight and inspiration and collaboration with both one’s peers and one’s students.

Postscript: And, speaking of collaboration, in my last column I referred to a new book entitled The Slow Professor, which focused on humanities research. I neglected to mention that the book’s co-author (with Professor Maggie Berg) is Barbara Seeber, a Queen’s PhD alumna and professor of English at Brock University.

Daniel Woolf
Principal and Vice-Chancellor

[cover of Alumni Review 2016 Issue 3]