The Middle of the Road

Denis Thérien, Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations)
Denis Thérien, Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations)

“Canada is a solid, middle-of-the-road performer.” That’s the conclusion of Canada’s Science, Technology and Innovation Council in its 2008 State of the Nation report, which benchmarks Canada’s performance on a wide range of science, technology and innovation indicators on an international scale. The STIC says that improving Canada’s performance “will require a concerted, coordinated effort by Canadian business, higher education, government and non-profit institutions.”


Solid isn’t a point of pride. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development ranks Canada near the very bottom in terms of private sector–university collaboration—far behind leaders Finland, Sweden and Belgium, and even Iceland, Portugal and the Slovak Republic. The problem is a lack of dialogue: In the STIC report, innovative Canadian firms say their most important sources of information are clients, suppliers and trade shows—not universities, despite the fact that higher education institutions account for 34 per cent of R&D in Canada, equivalent to $10 billion. This disconnect must be addressed if Canada is to parlay its investments and strengths into improved competitiveness.

McGill University has a strong track record of industry collaboration—in fact, the cover story of this issue of Headway looks at some of the outstanding research that has led to many successful, life-improving ventures—but we know there’s much more work to be done.

We are currently transforming our research portfolio to respond to the dynamic nature of our research partnerships. This restructuring will streamline our services to our researchers so that we can better capitalize on opportunities, whether they concern partnerships with government, industry, or academe. And we are taking proactive steps—like the recent Crossroad for BioTransfer event (see page 22 for coverage), which allows our world-class investigators to showcase their discoveries to private sector investors and partners.

There’s no question we have the talent. Consider our three new Killam Prize winners, Philippe Gros, Wagdi Habashi and François Ricard. Or our new Killam Fellowship winner, Robert Brandenberger. Or cognitive neuroscience pioneer Brenda Milner, who, as this magazine was about to go to press, added Grand Officer in the Order of Quebec to her already lengthy list of honours. Or our two new Steacie Fellowship recipients, Andrew Hendry and Karim Nader. I could go on. The challenge now is to work across sectors so that we can strategically focus that talent, allowing it to truly fulfill its vast potential. Because the middle of the road is not where we’re destined to be.

Denis Thérien


(Research and International Relations)