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'We bring a variety of skills and perspectives to bear on research questions'

Justin Powlowski, interim vice-president of Research and Graduate Studies, describes what it takes to build a next-generation university
January 23, 2017
By Renée Dunk


For Justin Powlowski, Concordia’s interim vice-president of Research and Graduate Studies, a next-generation university is one that collaborates on innovative tactics to share knowledge.

We caught up with Powlowski to find out what Concordia is doing to produce impactful research that makes a difference in a rapidly changing world.

What is a next-generation research university?

Justin Powlowski: The phrase “next-generation” can be applied in many different ways to describe what we aspire to in research at Concordia. I will focus on two of them.

Concordia is a relatively young university, both in Canada and in the world, and does not have the long history of research endeavours that many others have. Our first vice-president of Research and Graduate Studies arrived only in 2006. It was not so long ago that research was something professors did on the side of teaching, if they had the time.

Research is now much more visible here, but we still have some way to go to embed it in our culture and support it as a priority across the university. This is one of the things that we hope to achieve in a next-generation Concordia.

Another element, both here and elsewhere, is the growing expectation that research is not just something that we do in isolation, within our disciplines and specialities. We engage partners in the research enterprise to bring a variety of skills and perspectives to bear on research questions. These can be within the university, in different disciplines, or in community, industry and government.

Coupled closely with these partnerships is the increasing expectation to make our research more available and accessible to others who aren’t necessarily experts in the same discipline, thereby boosting its potential to have an impact.

How will the activities in your strategic plan help the sector get there?

JP: The university’s nine strategic directions support embedding research more in the Concordia culture, and bringing it to the forefront. The Double Our Research goal especially stands out because it’s the only one that has a quantity associated with it, and there’s a challenge implicit in it that gets people talking.

For example, I’ve heard professors reference it to frame discussions amongst themselves about how to increase research activity and what kind of support that would need. And if our support of researchers goes awry, we frequently hear “That’s not the way to double our research!”

It also gets traction in discussions with the other sectors of the university that we work with. They too see the challenge and want to discuss how to support us in making research a priority.

Several of the other strategic directions, notably Get Your Hands Dirty and Embrace the City, Embrace the World, support that second next-generation characteristic that I mentioned — developing partnerships.

Can you share three other key initiatives that are planned for 2016-17?

JP: The first initiative is institute and research cluster development, to create synergies between researchers and foster transdisciplinary collaboration.

Currently we have two research institutes, Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture and Technology, and the Concordia Institute of Aerospace Design and Innovation (CIADI), which bring together individual researchers and research centres, in digital media arts and aerospace, respectively.

We are also planning  two additional institutes in the areas of health and wellness, and sustainability and urbanization.

A related venture is the creation of think tanks, which will address community- or industry-specific challenges and related matters of public policy. Our first group, the Aviation Think Tank, launched this past September.

The third initiative is increased support for funding applications to large-scale grant competitions and assistance in administering them once we get them. That doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but success with these kinds of grants brings us increased visibility, enhanced graduate student funding and often partnerships that accelerate the research and increase its impact.

Learn more about
Concordia’s research sector.


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