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SSHRC president visits Queen’s

Ted Hewitt met with researchers and students to discuss challenges and opportunities within the Canadian social sciences and humanities research landscape.

  • Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC tours the Agnes Etherington Art Centre
    Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC, centre, and Sandra den Otter, Associate Vice-Principal (Research and International), listen as Norman Vorano, Queen's National Scholar in Indigenous Art and Material Culture, describes one of the exhibitions at the Agnes. (University Communications)
  • Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC, and Sandra den Otter, Associate Vice-Principal (Research and International), received a guided tour of Queen's Rembrandt at Agnes exhibit from Alicia Boutilier, Interim Director and Chief Curator at the Agnes.
    Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC, and Sandra den Otter, Associate Vice-Principal (Research and International), received a guided tour of Queen's Rembrandt at Agnes exhibit from Alicia Boutilier, Interim Director and Chief Curator at the Agnes. (University Communications)
  • Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC, attends a coffee and Q&A period hosted by Vice-Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, Fahim Quadir
    Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC, attends a coffee and Q&A period hosted by Vice-Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, Fahim Quadir. Graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, including current SSHRC funding recipients, discussed their experiences navigating the Canadian research landscape. (University Communications)
  • Alicia Boutilier, Interim Director and Chief Curator at the Agnes, Tamara de Szegheo Lang, Post-Doctoral Fellow (Film and Media), Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC, Sandra den Otter, Associate Vice-Principal (Research and International), Norman Vorano (Art History and Art Conservation).
    Providing a guided tour of the Agnes for Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC, centre, were, from left: Alicia Boutilier, Interim Director and Chief Curator at the Agnes; Tamara de Szegheo Lang, Post-Doctoral Fellow (Film and Media); Sandra den Otter, Associate Vice-Principal (Research and International); and Norman Vorano (Art History and Art Conservation). (University Communications)
  • During his visit to Queen's Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC met with an interdisciplinary group of researchers working on issues of AI and ethics.
    During his visit to Queen's Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC met with an interdisciplinary group of researchers working on issues of AI and ethics. (University Communications)

Ted Hewitt, President, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and Inaugural Chair, Canada search Coordinating Committee, visited Queen’s on Friday, Jan. 24. As part of his visit, Dr. Hewitt met with researchers and students, explored research spaces, and learned about the SSHRC-supported work being done at the university. He also sat down with the Gazette to chat about new SSHRC initiatives and how Queen’s is contributing to the advancement of research and research training in Canada. 

Q: For the past seven years, SSHRC has led the Imagining Canada’s Future Initiative. Tell us about the goals of this work.

A: This is a really good way to stimulate thinking about research and societal issues that are not only affecting us currently in Canada, but those that are coming down the road. It’s meant as a reflective exercise, to engage faculty, graduate students, researchers, university administrators, as well as decision-makers from private, public and community sectors in collective discussions on research. Not only are we thinking about areas of future importance, we are also addressing areas that are top of mind within our provincial and federal governments, including immigration, our environment, and the impact of digital technologies. The initiative gives us a great tool to bring together the best minds in our disciplines in order to shed light on issues and create dialogue to promote the value of the social sciences and humanities.

Q: Promoting and supporting Indigenous research is a key pillar for SSRHC and at Queen’s. Collectively, what are we, as a national research community, doing well? How can we continue to grow and learn?

Within the last 10 years, Indigenous research has grown, and now accounts for between eight and 12 per cent of the research we fund. We established an Indigenous research policy a few years ago that laid out some of the ground rules for how we would do this in the right way. We listened to members of our Indigenous Advisory Circle, we listened to the research community, and we were clear that in promoting Indigenous research we wanted to ensure that work is done by and with Indigenous peoples. And when these project proposals are submitted, we want them reviewed by panels that include First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. This new thrust in support of Indigenous-led research work has accelerated in the last couple of years since we’ve been working in tandem with the other councils.

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All three councils (CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC) have adopted similar principles based on an engagement exercise that lasted well over a year and involved engaging with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, collectives and communities across Canada, and talking to Indigenous researchers and students in order to develop ways of better meeting Indigenous research and research training needs. And we’ve just released a strategic plan, Setting new directions to support Indigenous research and research training in Canada, which will guide our efforts to strengthen Indigenous research capacity still further. The new plan emphasizes building  relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples; supporting their research priorities; creating greater funding accessibility to granting agency programs for Indigenous organizations and students; and championing Indigenous leadership, self-determination and capacity building in research.

Q: On your visit to Queen’s University you met with several different researcher groups representing different fields – from the creative arts and humanities to the health sciences and engineering. What does the future look like for interdisciplinary research in Canada?

A: It looks brighter than it did 10 years ago. Most researchers in Canada could be defined as disciplinary in terms of the work that they do, but we have started funding more interdisciplinary work and we are continually opening new opportunities to do just this. By offering more interdisciplinary funding opportunities, we are responding to a need while still maintaining a base that supports disciplinary research. There seems to be an increasing call and need for novel approaches to old problems, and to new problems, and we need to invest in combining disciplines in new ways that might help us to tackle specific issues in innovative and creative ways.

Q: What did you learn about the research happening at Queen’s? How does it align with the future vision of SSHRC?

The most remarkable part of my visit was the recognition that Queen’s researchers are working on issues aligned with the themes that we had previously discussed within the context of the Imagining Canada’s future initiative -- particularly around interdisciplinarity. With respect to AI for example, it wasn’t all robots and systems and computer science, it was the more philosophical, ethical, social issues that surround AI. I thought that was remarkable and it’s in line with what SSHRC has been saying about the need to include social science and humanities research from the beginning. Sooner or later everything in the world comes back to people and the best science in the world has been managed by humans, so it’s time to start talking to social scientists and humanists at the beginning. I saw evidence here at Queen’s that this integration is really happening, and I find that refreshing.