Viewpoint by Mark Forbes — How important is (Carleton) research?

Carleton is like most universities: There is a mix of basic and applied research on our campus. It’s the nature of this “mix” that defines our institution and gives us an edge along certain of the many possible paths of discovery and innovation. As a newly-appointed AVP, I am concerned that we identify our competitive edges and that Carleton fares well in research funding. However, success is more than just the amount of research money snagged. It is very much about using those grants and contracts to do important research. Important research means many things: becoming better scholars, making new discoveries, finding solutions to real-world problems, inventing useful things and, along the way, mentoring and training personnel, including students, post-doctoral fellows and technicians.

Using grants and contracts to achieve those ends requires that there is a supporting culture for research and training and a balance of accountability to the taxpayers. Last month, Carleton was informed that we “fully satisfied” tri-council regulations to ensure that processes were in place to fully account for how grant funding is used. Carleton is currently one of only three institutions in Canada to have this designation. At least we are accountable to taxpayers in how we spend our research funds and meeting ethical compliance, but how do we fare in doing important research? At one level, the answer to this question is fairly self-evident. We would not have been awarded the funding we have unless our research was viewed as worthy of investment by peers, who are often members on tri-council grant selection committees.

It is important that we, as a community, celebrate Carleton’s research. The incipient Carleton Academic Plan speaks to the “indivisibility” of research and teaching; instruction and research are not that different of enterprises. I am reminded of just last year when an undergraduate student in our Integrated Science Studies program, Elizabeth Ross, was part of a research team headed by an adjunct in the Earth Sciences Department, Natalia Rybczynski. The team discovered a celebrated fossil (Puijila darwini) which represents a proto-seal that lived in what is now the Canadian Arctic, 23 million years ago. In fact, Ross discovered the first fossilized bone. What a teaching and research experience!

It is vitally important that we hone and safeguard a culture of doing research. We want to be celebrating the many research endeavours and successes of Carleton from diverse and disparate fields such as sensor development and deployment, to research that challenges policy on Canadian immigration and settlement issues. In some cases, the research will lead to better ways of treating problems like childhood bullying or better ways of doing business by commercializing important inventions or ideas. I have heard the university environment described as “a marketplace of ideas.” I do not know where this phrase came from, but I do know it describes the culture we should want to protect and have flourish. Without it, important research cannot be done.

Mark Forbes is the associate vice-president (Research) at Carleton.

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