My Journey From Bench to Broker / Du lab de sciences au courtage de connaissances : mon itinéraire

The e-book, Career Journeys: Leaders share different career journeys in research administration (PDF), is one of six fabulous publications in the Canadian Association of Research Administrators (CARA) bookstore and presents the diverse career journeys of 11 different research administrators. It is a great resource for those wanting to learn about the myriad of career specialties within our profession. The ebook may be purchased on this page, toward the bottom:
Le livre électronique intitulé Career Journeys: Leaders share different career journeys in research administration (« Carrières au long cours. Parcours professionnels particuliers de leadeurs en gestion de la recherche », en format PDF), est l’un des six fabuleux ouvrages proposés dans la librairie de l’Association canadienne des administratrices et des administrateurs de recherche (ACAAR). On y présente les parcours professionnels très diversifiés de onze gestionnaires de recherche, personnalités reconnues de leur domaine. C’est une ressource formidable pour les personnes qui désirent connaitre la pléiade de spécialités qui existe au sein de notre profession. Vous pouvez vous procurer le livre en cliquant sur le lien qui se trouve un peu plus bas sur cette page :
Bench to Broker
This story was also a webinar for CARA delivered on February 3, 2016. Slides from that webinar may be found in Slide Share.
I wanted to be a vet when I was a kid. Then I wanted to be a doctor (which a vet friend once told me is just species specific veterinary medicine). Apart from one year where I decided to pursue music as a profession (I was a flute player playing in local orchestras) and one summer I took off my PhD to dance at Canada’s Wonderland (1989…Dancing in the City…which you CANNOT find on You Tube) science always underpinned my career choices.
I got into UofT Med School and turned them down because I was finishing my PhD. I deferred my acceptance to McMaster Med School so I could finish my PhD. When I did complete it in 1990, I turned down McMaster because I had all three of my post doc applications funded: NSERC, MRC, NHRDP (National Health Research & Development Program…funding most of the HIV research in Canada). I started my NHRDP post doc in 1991 working at the Toronto Hospital (Western Division). Fast forward 5 years and two more post docs (funded by Toronto Hospital and MS Society of Canada) and I was an inventor on what might have been a novel marker of HIV infection.
We disclosed that to the Toronto Hospital who referred us to the University of Toronto Innovation Foundation (their tech transfer office) who took on the technology as one of their commercialization projects.
It wasn’t a commercial success but that experience of being an inventor and seeing technology transfer gave me the inside track when a job opened up at the Innovations Foundation. I left the lab and started a career of managing research (and managing researchers…not an easy task) rather than doing research. A question I always ask of PhD scientists applying to a research admin job is “How do you think you will feel being among research but not doing it?”
From Manager of Biotechnology and Life Sciences at Innovations Foundation (1996-1999) to Director of Business Development at the Canadian Arthritis Network (1999-2001) to Director of Partnerships at CIHR (2001-2003) I landed at York as Director of Research Services, now Executive Director of Research and Innovation Services 12 years later.
My experience at the Canadian Arthritis Network was pivotal in forming the research management professional I am today. I was a tech transfer guy. Day 4 on the job I am meeting with researchers providing and researching community based arthritis care. There I was talking about patents and technology licensing and “bench to bedside” because that is all I knew. But in my naiveté (or arrogance) I didn’t know how much I didn’t know. Elizabeth Badley (Princess Margaret Hospital) called me on my narrow view of the world of research impact pointing out that many of their patients never saw a traditional hospital bed side as they were treated in community. Those researchers didn’t think bench to bedside but “chromosome to community”.  That comment started stretching my thinking about impacts of research beyond commercial relationships with industry.
That led me to reconfigure how we assigned “value” to funding applications recognizing the potential impacts on clinical practice, social services and public policy as well as creating the potential for commercial value. That helped me support a partnership at CIHR between CIHR, IDRC, CIDA and Health Canada that became the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research that is still running today. That experience allowed me then to work with DFAIT partners to craft language that became Section 6.4 of the 2002 Africa Action Plan of the 28th G8 Summit hosted in Kanaskis, Alberta.
And then, at York, we were able combine my experience brokering external research collaborations with York’s bench strength in socially engaged scholarship to create the Knowledge Mobilization Unit in 2006 that has become a national leader with an international reputation for providing institutional knowledge mobilization services.
Now York is leading ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche, Canada’s knowledge mobilization network consisting of 12 universities investing in institutional knowledge mobilization and related services and I am off to spend December 2015 at Coventry University as a Fellow of the Association of Commonwealth Universities to work on competencies of knowledge brokers. All this from one moment on a Friday afternoon in 1999 when Elizabeth Badley made me think about chromosome to community.
Some reflections on my job journey:

  1. Be your own best advocate. The job at Innovations Foundation hadn’t been advertised. In fact it wasn’t even available. I knew the opening was coming up and I spoke to the President of the Innovations Foundation about the job before it was even open.
  2. Don’t be afraid of hoping from job to job in the early years to gain broad, but increasingly senior, experience. I didn’t stay in any job longer than 2.5 years until I hit York and have been there for 12 years.
  3. Don’t necessarily accept the first job they offer you. Many people think it is important to negotiate salary. That will never get you more than a few thousand dollars more than the first offer. Think of negotiating on the roles offered. I was offered grants and contracts at York. I negotiated in technology transfer. I got a broader work experience and aligned the role to fit my area of expertise.
  4. Be innovative with your research administration and management roles. Think of new ways to do things. Recognize opportunities for growth of your portfolio. Knowledge mobilization didn’t exist at York and barely existed anywhere before we developed the institutional vision.