By Monique Roy-Sole
The University of Ottawa has just named Sylvain Charbonneau vice-president, research, a position he has held on an interim basis since last July. He is the third vice-president, research, in the history of the University, after Howard Alper and Mona Nemer. A proud uOttawa physics alumnus, Charbonneau returned to his alma mater in 2013 as associate vice-president, research, after a long career at the National Research Council of Canada. He spoke with the Gazette the day after his appointment.
You’ve been acting as interim vice-president, research, for seven months. What has struck you the most up until now?
I’ve had the opportunity to be around absolutely outstanding researchers, students and professors. These meetings have reinforced how important it is to attract the best international talent, but also to hold onto ours as much as possible. So, we have to structure research programs to hang onto our expertise and excellence, and build on it.
In your opinion, what are the University of Ottawa’s research priorities?
The three key research areas are excellence, relevance and impact. We have many niches of excellence in research at the University of Ottawa. I see an opportunity to develop our relevance, the way we connect with the local, national and international ecosystem, to maximize the impact of our research and benefit Canadians. For example, we could make more use of collaborations, given that the federal government and many non-governmental organizations are on our doorstep and that large multinationals are here in Ottawa.
Another priority will be to knock down the walls that exist between faculties, for multidisciplinary research programs. We will work hand in hand with the faculties to implement research strategies for them leading up to Destination 2030. Finally, the Office of the Vice-President, Research, will be listening to researchers. Among other things, we are going to review how to ease the administrative load to better support the research sector.
The University is getting ready to open the new STEM Complex. How are we positioning ourselves with regard to this key sector?
The STEM Complex is a major investment by the University of Ottawa in an important area for Canada and for the province. It’s a place that will encourage collaboration between STEM and the arts and humanities, especially as it relates to entrepreneurship. For me, it’s important to encourage the creation of research spinoff companies. We’ll reap the benefits of these investments over the years.
What is your long-term vision of research at the University of Ottawa?
We will have to continue the momentum of the last two vice-presidents, research, Howard Alper and Mona Nemer, who’ve left us a solid foundation. It’s important that we remain among the large Canadian research universities and to position ourselves so that we have a key place at the table at the U15.
We must capitalize more on the international side, as we did with the Fulbright research chairs in the U.S. or the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
Tell us something about yourself that might surprise your colleagues.
My colleagues might be surprised to learn that I’ve been a “cowboy.” I had horses for 11 years, until just recently. When I bought my first horse, I didn’t know how to ride it nor how to take care of it. For my 50th birthday, my wife sent me horseback riding through the Rockies for 10 days to learn! Riding became an activity that really brought us together as a family.