Ranking the research

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October 29, 2015
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
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By: Isaac Kinley

Earlier this month, Research Infosource Inc. released its 2015 list of the top 50 Canadian Research Universities, as measured by research income figures from 2010 to 2014. The rankings placed McMaster sixth in the country overall, eighth in total 2014 sponsored research income, first for corporate sponsorships, and thirteenth in non-profit sponsorships.

The rankings also measured research intensity, placing McMaster third in the country at $339,500 of research income per faculty member in 2014. Professor Allison Sekuler, McMaster’s interim Vice President of Research, credited the university’s performance to several factors. She pointed to the interdisciplinary faculties and institutions McMaster hosts, such as the Arts and Science Program, one of the oldest of its kind in Canada.

She explained that, along with the size of the university, these initiatives help to foster collaboration between faculty members with different areas of expertise and bring varied perspectives to research questions. “We’re big enough that there’s a lot of really interesting stuff going on but we’re small enough that it still feels like a community,” she said. “When I was at the University of Toronto before, I might have to drive an hour to see some of my colleagues.”

The rankings also showed that corporate research income as a percentage of total research income from 2010 to 2014 was higher for McMaster than for any other university in Canada. This raised the issue of corporate influence on basic research and academic independence.

However, Prof. Sekuler isn’t concerned. “[The McMaster Industry Liaison Office] reviews every contract that comes in to make sure [they] are in keeping with the ethos of the university,” she said.

She also explained that the goals of research and commerce are not necessarily mutually exclusive. She cited Interaxon, the company that sponsors her own research, saying they’re interested in not only improving their product, an EEG headband, but furthering basic research on the human brain. The partnership also allows her to obtain data from many more subjects than are usually available for her research. “We try to be very careful when we’re making agreements with companies, or nonprofits for that matter, in terms of what their role is in the research,” she said. “We generally aren’t getting a lot of funding from companies where it’s constraining the kind of work that people do. Academics don’t typically like to do that.”

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