Campus Life

Research excellence continues to grow at the U of L

On the strength of a year in which four University of Lethbridge faculty members earned nominations for Royal Society of Canada (RSC) membership, junior faculty members recently had the chance to obtain advice about their research careers directly from the president of the RSC College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

In 2016, three U of L faculty members, Drs. Louise Barrett, Bruce McNaughton and Joe Rasmussen, were elected to the RSC and Dr. Artur Luczak was elected to the RSC College. Membership in the College is reserved for faculty researchers who are within 15 years of having received their doctoral degree.

“We wanted to build on this success so Dr. Alidad Amirfazli came out to work with invited faculty — people who are in this junior realm and have a strong research career,” says Dr. Claudia Malacrida, associate vice-president research. “It was a real privilege for us to have him here as a representative of the College of the Royal Society.”

“I’m quite happy to be here in Lethbridge. As president of the College and as a fellow academic, one of our biggest responsibilities is giving back to the community to make sure the next generation is underway,” says Amirfazli, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at York University.

Dr. Alidad Amirfazli, president of the Royal Society of Canada College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

With that goal in mind, Amirfazli presented a workshop to help academics in the beginning phases of their research careers. Conducting high-quality research provides a necessary foundation, but the impact and influence of such scholarly work also needs to be communicated. Frequently, this is accomplished through a step-by-step process that begins with recognition at an institutional level and proceeds to the provincial, national and international levels.

“If you’re one or two years into your work, just focus on your work and build your foundation,” says Amirfazli. “If you have been in the system for two or three years, I think it’s tremendously important to start to think about your recognition profile in multiple levels: A, you owe it to yourself; you’ve worked so hard so you might as well get that recognition that you deserve at the level that is appropriate for where you are in your career; B, you owe it to the institution and your colleagues because, by your profile being raised, you are raising the profile of the institution and your colleagues and that’s part of giving back in an indirect way.

“All this starts to bring various people to you, which is going to help with your own work going forward and make you that much more successful. So it becomes sort of a virtuous circle—the more people are aware of what you’re doing and the recognition and the impact, the more they will be attracted to listening to your ideas and thoughts and what you’re doing.”

Amirfazli says people are always looking for new ideas. Even if an application fails to succeed in a particular competition, other people working in the field start to take notice and recognize an up-and-comer.

Publishing is of primary importance to an academic as it provides evidence of his or her work, says Amirfazli, adding that includes not only articles and books, but also exhibitions and community projects.

Post-secondary institutions are given a yearly allocation of seats they can nominate people for, and members of the Royal Society can also nominate independently. However, a nomination doesn’t necessarily lead to acceptance.

“This effort of the College is to sit down with early-stage researchers and make those long-term plans about what steps need to be taken to achieve the level of excellence in order to be successful once nominated,” says Malacrida. “To be a member of the Royal Society is hugely prestigious. We can have this aspiration institutionally to continue to grow that kind of strength.”

Typically, large universities, especially those with a medical school and a reputation for research excellence, have larger memberships in the Royal Society.

“We’re moving into that realm,” said Malacrida. “As an institution, we need to be able to carry our colleagues with us. Dr. Amirfazli’s visit is an important support for that goal.”