By Donna Barton and Neale McDevitt
The questions are big, but so is the impact their answers will have on the local, national and world communities.
How can McGill encourage transformative research, particularly through interdisciplinary education and research that benefits society, while advancing the University’s leadership in the field? What can the University do to help move innovative ideas from the lab into the marketplace? Are there specific areas of research where McGill should be focusing its energy and resources now, in preparation for the future?
These are the kinds of questions put forward at the second “Open Forum on the Future of McGill Research,” hosted jointly by Provost Anthony Masi and Rosie Goldstein, Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations), at the Bronfman Building on Oct. 26.
The goal of these ongoing sessions is to provide information to and gather feedback from the McGill community on two important strategic documents currently being updated at the University: ASAP 2012: Achieving Strategic Academic Priorities and the Strategic Research Plan (SRP). The two plans are being developed in parallel to ensure they align with the University’s mission to be a world-class, student-centred institution of higher learning and provide a cohesive vision for McGill’s academic and research priorities over the next five years – what Masi called “a roadmap for the future.”
The session really hit its stride following Masi’s and Goldstein’s introductory remarks and a 10-minute update and discussion of the MUNACA strike. With the floor opened for questions, audience members quickly turned the Q&A format into a candid conversation in which they freely voiced their opinions and concerns – and offered their advice – on a variety of research-related subjects.
The question was raised about the capability of McGill to respond quickly to burgeoning research areas that required cross-faculty collaboration. One particular area noted was the domain of bioengineering. An individual commented that more and more institutions worldwide have dedicated significant resources to facilitate the interface between biological science, physical sciences and engineering, and that McGill may be missing the boat by not taking a leadership role in this field.
“Bioengineering is going to happen,” assured Masi.
Goldstein reiterated that the bioengineering question could be asked of any cross-faculty research initiative. “The bigger question, and one that should be embedded in our planning is how do we implement these institutional priorities?
“The objective of our planning is to provide a framework and a structure that will bring people together to conduct transformative research,” she said.
The conversation went from the discussion of interdisciplinary research to the related topic of specialized research equipment and the lack of funds to maintain its operation once funding contracts have expired.
“Some of these are really great pieces of equipment and they are all going to grind to a halt in April 2012 [when some resource research grants are coming to a close],” said one Forum participant. “Where McGill should be putting its money is in the basic tool box.”
Masi noted that what is needed is better coordination between faculties and departments in regards to sharing common equipment. But he also said that a huge part of the problem has its roots in funding. “For these types of ambitious initiatives to really work, we need buy-in from the bottom up and funding from the top down,” he said.
One of the major issues facing McGill is the lower level of tuition in the province.
“We now charge about $2,000 while the Canadian average is $5,200. That’s a $3,000 gap,” said Masi. “Multiply that by 25,000 undergrads and that’s $75 million. I don’t think that tuition is the only answer, but it has to be a significant part of it.”
The next Open Forum on the Future of McGill Research will be held on Nov. 10, from 8:30 to 10 a.m. at the Faculty Club, Ballroom (Ground Floor), 3450 McTavish.
For more info, see the Events Channel online.