First steps bring the Engineering research plan to life

Posted on August 17, 2022


The launch of the Queen’s Engineering Strategic Plan this past February signalled a new chapter for the Faculty, with objectives around three major themes. Now the plan is beginning to come to life through a new implementation committee working to transform the objectives of the first theme into measurable research-related action items. 

“The Strategic Plan must become something real, not just words on a page,” says Amir Fam, Vice-Dean (Research). Our work on the research objectives will lead to changes and growth that will give our researchers the resources they need to reach their full potential.” The research objectives comprise the first of three ‘themes’ in the plan, along with advancing engineering education and the importance of diversity at Queen’s Engineering and in the industry.

The implementation committee, which meets monthly, includes representation from across Engineering. Led by Vice-Dean Fam (Civil Engineering), the committee includes Chemical Engineering Department Head Brian Amsden, staff member Vera Kettnaker, graduate student Erin Lee (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) and researcher/faculty member Majid Pahlevani (Electrical and Computer Engineering). The group is intentionally small to allow them to be nimble and dynamic as they brainstorm and prioritize.

“The committee brings together diverse and valuable perspectives,” says Vera Kettnaker, Engineering’s Research Development Strategist and the staff representative on the committee. “That’s essential for informing and prioritizing our work.”  The plan includes several key objectives, and the committee has been working hard to plan a realistic and manageable path forward.

“I'm happy to be part of this committee looking at this vital part of our strategic plan,” says Erin Lee, a PhD candidate. “With research programs at both the Master’s and doctoral levels, Queen’s Engineering grad students are significant contributors to faculty research, and having representation in this process is much appreciated.”

The Strategic Plan begins with two ambitious actions to augment the faculty’s research capacity: by increasing the number of faculty members by 30%, and graduate students by 50%, by 2026. “Graduate students are integral to increasing capacity in our research programs, and they are the next generation of highly qualified people solving some of our world’s biggest problems,” says Fam. “We also need to increase our faculty numbers, both to increase our research capacity and  to ensure that our graduate students are appropriately mentored and supported.” Targeted marketing plans will showcase our research excellence to attract the best and brightest graduate students.

The committee is working with the faculty’s advancement team to attract funding to support international speakers and exchanges for faculty and graduate students. Along with raising the profile of Queen’s Engineering, these activities foster international collaboration opportunities.

A key goal within the research theme includes the creation of endowed chairs for teaching and research. These chairs will contribute to key areas of research strength directly related to the UN’s Sustainable Development goals: low carbon energy, engineering for climate change and resiliency, intelligent systems, and biomedical engineering. Infrastructure planning will be integral to ensure access to core facilities and equipment.

The committee is also working on new mentorship activities for junior researchers. Majid Pahlevani, an early career researcher on the committee, says that it can be challenging to establish a research program. “There’s so much to learn at the beginning,” he says. “The committee is working on developing resources and workshops to help early career researchers accelerate their careers, from setting up partnerships and hiring students, to applying for grants and achieving work/life balance.”

A research symposium in October will highlight recent work and allow researchers to meet and network with colleagues, particularly those hired during the pandemic. Industry partners, including potential new collaborators, will also be invited to the symposium.

Fam notes that this is an exciting time for research at Queen’s Engineering, with exceptional opportunities to build on a strong history of discovery and global impact. “Our researchers have a reputation for contributions in all areas of society, and the objectives in Theme One of the strategic plan lay the foundation for building on our success, and taking our research programs to the next level.”

 

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Research theme implementation committee members (L to R): Vera Kettnaker, Majid Pahlevani, Amir Fam, Bryan Amsden, and Erin Lee.