Canada Research Chairs announced

Canada Research Chairs announced McGill University

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McGill Reporter
January 11, 2001 - Volume 33 Number 08
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 33: 2000-2001 > January 11, 2001 > Canada Research Chairs announced

Canada Research Chairs announced

The first 195 recipients of the Canada Research Chairs Program have been announced by the federal government. The nationwide program allows Canada's universities to hire and retain star researchers, as well as younger scholars and scientists with the potential to become leaders in their fields.

Universities receive $200,000 a year to support the salaries and research-related costs of star researchers hired as Tier I CRCs. The federal government supplies $100,000 a year to universities to support more junior Tier II CRCs.

"By retaining top-level researchers at our universities and attracting others from beyond our borders, the Canada Research Chairs Program will help Canada stay at the forefront of the global knowledge-based economy," said Prime Minister Jean Chrétien recently.

Most Canadian universities have used their first portion of CRCs to hold on to top talents already on their payroll. McGill has taken a different route.

The University created internal awards for current McGill professors -- the James McGill Professors and William Dawson Scholars programs -- that offer similar rewards to the CRC program. That frees up McGill to use its share of CRCs to recruit new faculty.

Of the first CRCs named by the federal government, only 15 come from outside Canada. Almost half of those new professors are headed to McGill.

Some of McGill's new CRCs are already here (Victoria Kaspi and Laura Nilson). The others are expected to be in place by September.

"In every case, we've been talking to these people for some time. In a few instances we still have to close the deal," says Associate Vice-Principal (Academic) Nick de Takacsy.

De Takacsy wants to clear up one widely held misconception about the CRC program. The money coming to McGill won't all be going into salaries. "The Tier 1 people won't be making $200,000 a year, for instance. The salaries will be high, but they won't be out of line" with what McGill pays other top academics.

The money received by McGill for CRC positions can be used for supporting research-related costs (new journal subscriptions, for instance), salary-related expenses (benefits) and McGill's recruitment costs in luring new talent to the University.

The seven initial chairs don't seem like many at first blush -- McMaster University received 17 CRCs, for instance. Overall, McGill is expected to get 162 CRCs with only the University of Toronto and Université de Montréal getting more.

De Takacsy says the relatively modest number of chairs for the first round relates to the fact that McGill focused on recruiting new faculty from other institutions. It's a lot more complicated offering a CRC position to someone at another university in another country than it is to give one to a colleague whose office is just down the hall.

"With these positions, we want to recruit even more carefully than we usually do," says de Takacsy.

"There was also a short time frame for us to work in. We focused on people that we were already talking to. There are already other [CRC candidates] in the pipeline for the next round."

De Takacsy doesn't think that the CRC program will result in Canadian universities raiding one another to any great extent. "If that happens, the program will be a failure. The whole idea of the program is to increase Canada's competitiveness overall, not to steal from one another."

Still, he knows of a few cases where McGill researchers have been approached by other universities with CRC offers. Hence the reasoning behind the James McGill and William Dawson programs to offer professors who are already at McGill the same sort of salary inducements and other plums provided by the CRC program.

"The problem is that we have more good people than we've got money," says de Takacsy. "Part of the rationale behind [the McGill and Dawson programs] is preventative retention. We also don't want to ignore the people who are high quality and who aren't thinking of leaving."

While he endorses the Dawson and McGill programs, de Takacsy confesses, "I'm a little uncomfortable with them in that straight merit isn't the only criteria. There are strategic considerations and competitive considerations we have to think about [in selecting who will be awarded by the programs]."

McGill's new Canada Research Chairs are:

Tier I

Gary Jack Bennett

A neurology professor at MCP Hahnemann University in Philadelphia, Bennett has been the director of pain research there. He has also been the director of that university's Quantitative Sensory and Autonomic Nervous System Testing Laboratories.

Bennett is a world authority on neuropathic pain, a chronic condition that develops when nerves are damaged by trauma, disease, particularly toxic drugs (some cancer and AIDS medications, for instance) or other causes.

Bennett helped develop the first animal model of painful peripheral neuropathic pain due to partial nerve lesion. The model is now used worldwide and has sparked a largescale effort by drug companies to find treatments.

Bennett received the Frederick W.L. Kerr Basic Science Research Award from the American Pain Society in 1996. He is widely respected for his contributions to our understanding of the neural mechanisms associated with neuropathic pain and he will be based at the MUHC-McGill Pain Centre.

Yosef Grodzinsky

Grodzinsky describes himself as "a biologist of language" and uses both linguistic theory and neuroimaging techniques to examine how humans process language. A member of Tel Aviv University's Psychology Department and the Aphasia Research Centre at Boston University's School of Medicine, Grodzinsky is the co-editor of the recent book Language and the Brain: Representation and Processing (Foundations of Neuropsychology). Grodzinsky provided the first linguistic account of the breakdown pattern of receptive language in Broca's aphasia (victims with this condition, resulting from damage to the left hemisphere frontal lobe, exhibit a range of difficulties connected to language comprehension). Grodzinsky has also posited that Broca's aphasia can be used as a testing ground for broader questions concerning language acquisition. An expert on the neuroanatomy of syntax, Grodzinsky is also studying the possible links between linguistic and mathematical abilities.

Bruce Kohorn

An avid mountaineer and the winner of two teaching awards, Kohorn has been an associate professor of botany at Duke University. His research has been published in such prestigious journals as Nature and The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Kohorn is a plant cell biologist whose research looks at how proteins are targeted for insertion into membranes. His examination of cell walls -- the carbohydrate and protein structures that surround and separate plant cells -- offers important information for biologists interested in understanding how plants grow, develop and obtain resistance to pathogens.

Jeffrey Mogil

Currently a member of the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Jeffrey Mogil examines the psychology of pain from several different vantage points. He is credited with the discovery of sex-specific analgesic circuitry -- Mogil's lab demonstrated how gender plays a major role in determining how individuals experience and respond to various treatments for pain. The work was listed in Discover magazine's "Top 50 Science Stories of the Year."

Mogil has also examined how specific genes guide the way people react to pain and how a brain signalling system opposes the effects of painkillers such as morphine.

Tier II

Douglas Gin

A member of the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, Gin developed a general technique for using lyotropic liquid crystals to self-assemble durable new materials for structures that can be measured in nanometres (billionths of a metre). It was an important contribution to the field of materials science, which is involved in an intense hunt for new nanostructural polymers and materials that can mimic bone cells' ability to develop into a number of different forms at the micro-level.

In 1999, Gin was selected as an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, one of North America's most prestigious prizes for young researchers.

Victoria Kaspi

A native Montrealer and, according to her web site, a hockey fan (hmm, maybe this isn't the best time for her to return to the city), Kaspi has been splitting her time between McGill and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1999. Now a full-fledged member of the Department of Physics, Kaspi will play a leading role in developing the department's budding new program in astrophysics.

An expert on neutron stars or pulsars -- stars with enormous magnetic fields and which rotate very rapidly -- Kaspi is credited with playing a leading role in several pulsar-related discoveries -- including finding the remnants of a new supernova, discovering the 1,000th known pulsar, and finding evidence that rare, strange-acting stars known as Anomalous X-ray Pulsars are really neutron stars.

Laura Nilson

Recently a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University, Nilson has published work in prestigious journals such as Cell and won the Eli Lilly Award for the most significant research on papillomavirus -- a DNA virus linked to cervical cancer -- done by a graduate student.

A developmental geneticist, Nilson is interested in the fruitfly Drosophila. Because of their genetic similarities to humans, the insects offer a means for studying a variety of diseases at the genetic level that afflict humans. Nilson studies intercellular signaling: how cells communicate with one another to control each other's developmental fate.

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