Building partnerships to drive change

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

There exists an image of the solitary genius, toiling day and night, pushing toward a “Eureka!” moment that will clarify deep mysteries. The parts are true enough. Research does entail long hours of hard work. Illuminating breakthroughs do strike. And having a nimble, brilliant mind certainly helps. But isolation isn’t a hallmark of today’s research.

Whether we’re talking chemistry or economics (or medicine, or engineering, or…), teamwork drives innovation. At McGill, we know that collaboration, between colleagues and between professors and students, is the soil from which outstanding ideas grow. Research partnerships don’t stop at the campus gates, either.

There are challenges that simply can’t be met by any one university or company. A massive project like the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland was once thought impossible—and, in fact, is only possible through the collaboration of 8,000 physicists and hundreds of universities in some 85 countries (including, from McGill, eight professors, four post-doctoral fellows and research assistants, and seven graduate students), making it likely the largest inter-institutional and international research infrastructure project ever realized. The goal for my office’s partnership staff is to develop domestic and international research partnerships that, although not on the scale of the Large Hadron Collider (but, really, what is?), will help build the future.

Sometimes it’s about bringing new blood to McGill. The University is excited to have four proposals among the 40 shortlisted for the Canada Excellence Research Chairs program, which aims to attract and support world-class researchers in areas of strategic importance to Canada. Keep an eye on the newly redesigned Headway website for CERC developments.

Sometimes it’s about forging new relationships between our existing talent and other parts of the world. Case in point: The Canada-California Strategic Innovation Partnership, co-administered by ISTP Canada and the University of California, aims to parlay industrially relevant R&D projects into new business models of bilateral collaboration. McGill is thrilled to be leading five of the 15 projects granted in Canada—a reflection of our researchers’ high calibre—and eager to build strong partnerships in what is widely considered a global centre for technology and environmental innovation. On the other side of the globe, we’ve been deepening our relationship with RIKEN, one of Japan’s largest research organizations. New McGill-RIKEN collaborations include the FANTOM4 Consortium about mammalian gene control (McGill professor of biochemistry Josée Dostie is the only Canadian member) and Paul Lasko’s Developmental Biology Research Initiative to explore the mechanisms behind regenerative medicine. We’re confident this is just the beginning of a long, prosperous relationship with what is one of the world’s leading sites of interdisciplinary research excellence.

That’s tomorrow. Then there are our partnerships that are bearing fruit today—and that’s the focus of this, our eighth issue of Headway. Whether it’s understanding the mysteries of the human brain (“Outside the Music Box”), or reducing harvest spoilage (“From Green Revolution to Evergreen Solutions”), McGill researchers are using partnerships to drive change. Because behind every outstanding breakthrough is an outstanding team.

McGill has much to be proud of in its teams’ achievements. During my tenure as Vice-Principal, I have been extremely proud to have helped build many of the partnerships you will read about between these covers—and I eagerly look forward to the breakthroughs and innovations the coming years will bring.

Denis Thérien


(Research and International Relations)