A conversation with Amir Fam

Posted on September 20, 2016

Associate Dean (Research and Graduate Studies) sets three main goals in mandate

Newly minted Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science Associate Dean (Research and Graduate Studies), Amir Fam, has had a great year so far.

“I was given the opportunity to serve as Associate Dean,” he says with a joyful smile. “I was elected member of the college in the Royal Society of Canada and I also became the Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering. I feel completely honoured. It’s just wonderful. It’s a blessing.”

Fam joined the faculty in the Department of Civil Engineering at Queen’s in 2002. Since then, he continues to distinguish himself and the university with a torrent of leading research in structural engineering. He and his team study and develop new materials used to retrofit aging bridges and buildings and ensure the longevity of new ones. It’s technology that can extend the operational life of infrastructure thereby saving taxpayers untold millions in replacement costs.

This year, for example, with the help of a sizeable grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Fam is building a piece of research equipment in Ellis Hall to test the endurance of structural bridge elements under moving loads. With it, his team will be able to simulate the effects of a lifetime’s worth of heavy vehicle traffic over a structural member in a relatively short time.

Amir Fam

SHARING KNOWLEDGE: “It’s important to note, You don’t impose mentorship on people,” says FEAS Associate Dean – Research and Graduate Studies, Amir Fam. “You just make sure it’s available when the opportunity comes. You just give generously of your experience.”

Accolades, promotion and new responsibilities aside, Fam says he wants to make sure that research and work with graduate students remain close to his heart.

“While I’m working as Associate Dean, I won’t slow down my own research,” he says. “It’s very important to me, and it’s very important to me to continue to practice what I preach, to lead from the front. I’m very close to my students, in fact, some of them have coined the new term for our group: ‘Fam-ily.’”

Fam served as Chair of Undergraduate Studies in the civil engineering department for years, so he’s well equipped for the administrative aspects of his new role as Associate Dean. Still, it’s a change for him; a new challenge. He’s set three main goals for his mandate.

“Firstly, I want to make it known my door will be absolutely open to everyone seeking advice on issues, help with proposals, brainstorming ideas." he says. "I can offer mentorship particularly for senior PhD students and post docs, and advice and help for my colleagues, especially early-career professors. I worked very hard to launch a very strong international platform of research and have been lucky enough to be very successful. I just feel I have a lot of experience to share  at the research front.”

Secondly, in a shared aspiration with faculty, Fam wants to find ways to make opportunities for potential students living in the GTA to seek a Master’s in engineering from Queen’s.

“Many potential students have day jobs and they’d like to get their degrees while continuing to support families or children,” he says. “It’s difficult for them to give up their day jobs to come study full time at Queen’s. If we can’t move them here, why don’t we find a way to offer the programs in the GTA?”

To that end, Fam is continuing the work of his predecessor, Brian Surgenor, on development of a program that will offer Queen’s MEng studies in the GTA.

“Thirdly, we hope to secure some large grants, primarily for research,” he says. “We talking about large projects potentially with values in the millions of dollars. Projects of that scope require clusters, a critical mass. It would be difficult for one person to do it. You have to build a group of partnerships with multiple institutions. We have had some good success with this but there is room for more of it.”

To that end, Fam says, he’s just articulated and sent out the terms of reference for a new Dean’s Research Fund intended to be seeding money for these large initiatives with a stated aim of cultivating an environment in which this work is encouraged and supported among faculty.

“It’s so wonderful to meet all the people that I just never had reason to connect with before becoming Associate Dean,” says Fam. “There are so many new opportunities. In my previous role, I was responsible for my students and myself. It’s a different feeling now. In my new position, I get to hear success stories about colleagues or anyone in the faculty and I get more excited. It’s as if something nice happened for a family member.”