By James Martin
Interview with Dr. Rose Goldstein, new Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations)
Dr. Rose Goldstein is no stranger to McGill University. The Montreal native received a Bachelor of Science in cell and molecular biology from the University in 1975, and her medical degree in 1979. She then trained in internal medicine at the Universities of Toronto and Ottawa, and in rheumatology at the University of Ottawa and the University of Texas at Houston. Before coming to McGill in December 2010, she served for three years as Vice-President (Research) at the University of Calgary.
What do you see as the biggest challenges currently facing research universities in Canada?
Canadian universities need to become more externally focused if we want to really be able to solve the complex problems that society faces today. We have two key opportunities here: first, forging new types of strategic partnerships within Canada and, secondly, positioning Canadian universities to lead globally.
On the international level, we need to develop an approach to our work that helps us become entrepreneurial and global — for example, working with multinational companies to commercialize research results — while honouring our academic history,
traditions and values. We need to do the same thing on the country level, we must bridge the gap between our excellent university-centred researchers and innovators and government and private industry. I’m talking about a three-way partnership.
While we’ve already done some great work outside of the academic silo, quite frankly, we need to do more. We also need to be more strategic in this innovative endeavour— so that we focus our efforts on the areas where we can really excel at a global level.
Who do you see as role models in this area?
Other countries, including Finland, Israel and our neighbour to the south, are good examples of jurisdictions which have developed quite successful research and commercialization models, and very productive partnerships between universities, industry and governments.
We can do the same here in Canada. The federal and provincial governments have programs which support centres of excellence in commercialization and research — and those can be used to fund three-way partnerships. For example, NSERC has announced new programs to bring individuals as well as business sectors together. Partnerships are hard work, because they involve different cultures and different ways of working, but that’s where the means to important advances lie. The universities that get this right will have the opportunity to excel and to lead a knowledge- and innovation-based society.
It is always a challenge for universities to clearly articulate our research goals and what the outcomes of those goals will be. Our stakeholders are demanding that more and more, and we should be welcoming it. By clearly communicating what we’re doing and what we plan to achieve, we’re ensuring that we’re relevant, that we’re providing the quality we’ve promised, and that, in this changing environment for research and innovation, we’re staying focused and true to our values. It’s important to be accountable for our research performance.
But what about basic research?
Basic research is the lifeblood of what we do here — and we must sustain our research infrastructure. At the centre of this is sustaining our excellent faculty and students because those are the people who are doing the fundamental research. The challenge here is that we have to secure sufficient funding for the full cost and the full spectrum of research. That includes basic, curiosity-driven research as well as interdisciplinary research and partnerships. We need to increase our investment in the diverse, broad vista of basic and fundamental research while, at the same time, establishing research priorities in areas in which we can be world leaders. And, in order to really deliver, we need to secure support that is predictable and long-lasting.
I can’t emphasize enough striking a balance between fundamental research and interdisciplinary and applied research — and supporting all of it. And, in all of these plans, I’m very cognizant of protecting and securing McGill’s standing in Canada and the world.