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Road map to renewal
| In the coming years, over 300 of McGill's professors will be Canada Research Chairs, James McGill Professors or William Dawson Scholars — positions that will offer fatter paycheques and better-funded research programs.
The University has been counting on using the federal government's new Canada Research Chairs program to attract dozens of top-notch academics to the University. The CRC program recently made public how it will be apportioning its research chairs over the next five years and McGill is in line for 162 of the prestigious positions. Only the University of Toronto has been allotted more.
"Coming in second, when you consider the excellent universities in the running, it's hard not to be pleased," says Vice-Principal (Academic) Luc Vinet.
The CRC program was created in the last federal budget in a bid to battle the brain drain of talented Canadian researchers to the U.S. and to address the expected retirement of scores of the country's university professors over the next few years.
Armed with $900 million in funding from Ottawa, the CRC program will fund the creation of 2,000 new research chairs at Canada's universities. The plan is to create jobs that are attractive enough to encourage the country's top academic talents to stay put. The CRC program also aims to entice prominent researchers from outside the country to make Canada their new home.
About half of the CRC positions will go to senior researchers acknowledged by their peers as international leaders in their fields. These positions will be handed out for seven-year terms and will be renewable indefinitely. Universities will receive $200,000 a year to fund each of these chairs.
The other half of the CRC positions will be assigned to younger researchers who have demonstrated the potential to become star performers. These chairs will be renewable only once for a second five-year term. Universities will receive $100,000 a year to finance these chairs.
In addition, for each chair allocated, universities can request a further $125,000 from the Canada Foundation for Innovation for infrastructure support.
The CRC positions are divvied up among Canada's universities on the basis of how well the institutions fare in competitions for research funding from the country's chief granting agencies — the Medical Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
The first research chairs will be handed out for the next academic year beginning in September. McGill is slated to receive 29. But the University has to do some homework before it actually gets any CRC money.
Each university has to forward a comprehensive strategic plan describing its research priorities. Once this is done, the institutions can apply for specific CRC positions. But before they get the money, the applications will be scrutinized by review panels established by the granting councils.
Vinet has been heading a task force that's been busy preparing McGill's strategic plan in consultation with the different faculties.
Preparing the plan has been a challenge, says Vice-Principal (Research) Pierre Bélanger, a member of the task force. "You have to be judicious. If we're too specific, we might tie ourselves down later. If we're too general, it won't be credible."
The deadline for McGill's plan is August 1. Vinet says McGill's planning process will encompass more than just the CRC program. In establishing the University's academic priorities for the next several years, the plan will also provide a road map for a new McGill initiative designed to dovetail with the CRC program.
The University has committed itself to matching the number of new professors it's able to attract through the CRC program, hire for hire, through the new James McGill Professorships and William Dawson Scholars programs.
While some universities intend to use CRC chairs to hang on to their current top talents, McGill will be using the CRC program exclusively as a recruitment tool for new professors.
The James McGill and William Dawson positions will be targeted towards current members of McGill's academic corps. These positions will offer their recipients special perks such as additional salary and extra research funding. James McGill Professorships will go to full professors, while associate and assistant professors will be eligible to become William Dawson Scholars.
Vinet says the selection process for these positions isn't finalized, but departmental chairs "will likely be called upon to make nominations." New James McGill and William Dawson appointments will be made each year for the next five years "in parallel with the CRC."
Vinet hasn't heard of any other Canadian university making a similar move. "This is a very ambitious and exciting plan." In reserving a big portion of the University's budget for the James McGill and William Dawson positions, McGill is "demonstrating a strong commitment to our future," Vinet says.