Western targets funds on Clusters of Research Excellence

Western officials see a new initiative as a way of bringing the university’s best minds together. And the institution is willing to back that bet with an unprecedented investment.

Recently, the university announced the creation of the Western Clusters of Research Excellence (CRE), a program showcasing areas of strategic importance to the university that hold high potential for Western to become globally renowned in that area. Backing these CREs will be $30 million in one-time funding.

Janice Deakin, provost and vice-president (academic), announced the initiative at Senate.

“These are investments in our community, in training future leaders and in research with global impact for our health, financial, cultural and social well-being,” Deakin said. “With these and other programs, we plan to bring some of the very best research talent to London, and to provide them with the tools to change the world.”

The university is placing its biggest research bets on these clusters, each receiving $5 million over five years, created in key areas of strategic importance, across all disciplines. Funding will support graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and faculty, with a preference of mid- to senior-level scholars, as well as administrative, infrastructure support and outreach costs.

It’s a commitment John Capone, vice-president (research), sees aligned with the institution’s ambitions.

“Western is committed to fostering an environment for innovation and world-class research that attracts the best and brightest faculty and students, and that generates tangible benefits for the social, health, economic and cultural well-being of Canadians – and citizens around the world,” Capone said. “Our investments in developing CRE will help us to leverage and focus our strengths to develop internationally recognized strategic areas of global relevance and impact that address some of the most pressing and challenging research questions we face.”

Deakin explained successful clusters would show interdisciplinary, cross-faculty, cross-institutional research that pools skills, expertise and infrastructure to promote the cutting-edge of a given area. These areas will be showcases for the institution, used to attract top students and faculty to Western.

Given the existing stature of cognitive neuroscience at Western, Deakin said, this area will be named the first official CRE this summer. The three remaining areas will be determined following the development of the 2013 University Strategic Plan.

“We are fortunate to have some of the world’s leading scientists among our midst in this area,” Capone said of neuroscience’s head start. “Strategic investments will enable us to further grow our capacity in this important area to be among the very best in the world.  Research in neuroscience is an area of vital importance to human health and well-being, and Western will be at the vanguard of innovation, discovery and applications in neuroscience that will have national and global impact.”

In support of the CRE, the Western Research Chair Program will be created with each appointment to be part of a cluster, and modelled after Tier 1 Canada Research Chairs. Funding will be provided at $200,000 per year for five years. Up to 10 chairs will be funded for mid- and senior-career academics.

All in all, it’s not a matter of Western picking winners, Capone said, but being strategic with limited research funding. Opportunities within the clusters, he stressed, can be spread across many disciplines.

“Targeted investments in areas we can be global leaders in will enhance the level of scholarships and research engagement/expectations across the university. Our success in developing globally relevant and competitive research programs will require increasingly integrated and multidisciplinary approaches whose foundation will be an unwavering focus on enhancing core disciplinary strengths,” Capone said. “This will provide exciting opportunities for meaningful engagement and participation across a wide spectrum of disciplines at Western.”