Science dean: ‘World needs what we are putting together’

Jason Winders // Western NewsMatt Davison, MSc’93 (Applied Math), PhD’95 (Applied Math), was named the new Dean of the Faculty of Science, effective July 1. After an eight-month search, he follows Charmaine Dean into the position.

Matt Davison believes science plays a significant role in both the day-to-day life of a university and the generation-to-generation preservation of human understanding. He wants the world to know the same.

“There are thousands of years of research behind what we do. Keeping that alive is already a huge contribution we make as scientists,” said the Statistical and Actuarial Sciences professor. “But then ,we extend it – every day in our labs, in our classrooms, on our chalkboards, in our field schools. That is a massive contribution. The general public often does not connect small ‘s’ science with the big ‘s’ Faculty of Science. They think of us as teachers, first and foremost, and forget we are also making some of the scientific discoveries that drive the world.”

Davison, MSc’93 (Applied Math), PhD’95 (Applied Math), hopes to foster an improved public perception of – even renewed fascination with – science from his new position, leading the Faculty of Science. Western appointed him to a five-year term as the faculty’s next Dean, beginning July 1. After an eight-month search, he follows Charmaine Dean to the position.

Davison joined Western in July 1999. Since 2014, he has held several leadership roles in the Faculty of Science, including Acting Associate Dean and Chair of the Department of Statistical & Actuarial Sciences. Currently, he serves as the founding director of the School of Mathematical & Statistical Sciences, an entity that combines the departments of Applied Mathematics, Mathematics and Statistical & Actuarial Sciences. Davison held a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Quantitative Finance (2006-16) and is a Fields Institute Fellow.

Prior to joining Western, Davison was Assistant Vice-President, Equity Arbitrage, at Deutsche Bank Canada (1997-99). He was a postdoctoral research fellow in the Physiology Institute of the University of Bern in Switzerland from 1995-97.

He holds a Bachelor of Applied Science (Engineering) from the University of Toronto and an MSc and PhD in Applied Math from Western.

“The world needs what we are putting together – the kind of discoveries we are generating, the type of first-rate students we are graduating,” Davison continued. “But there is more we can do – more we can do together. I am motivated by the great leaders who have lead this place in the past, and I look forward to leading us into the future.”

In Western, he sees a university community well-positioned for the future, one that has had the foresight to combine its research strengths and work collectively to address global challenges.

“The world’s problems cross disciplinary boundaries – not only within science, but across the university. One of Western’s competitive advantages is we already talk across faculty walls,” Davison said.

Among other benefits, this collaborative approach allows the university to nurture and graduate “T-shaped students” – ones grounded in technical skills alongside social and cultural skills, he added.

As Davison sees it, there are two main challenges to tackle in his field – funding and communication.

“We don’t have enough money. Everyone will go to that first. Honestly, most sectors will sing the same refrain,” he noted.

To grow funding avenues and improve prospects, Davison thinks scientists need to do a better job of telling their story – not only through the media, but by engaging with the grassroots, or by helping industry and government solve some of the problems that face them.

“None of this is new. We are already doing these things. We can just do more of them – and reward people who are doing them in different ways. I want to foster this as a great way to be an academic,” he continued.

Western needs to continue down this path in an ever-expanding environment. We can’t look at academia as just “a club for the West,” Davison said. The world is engaged and investments are global.

“There are old, easy assumptions we can make, like ‘China is a great place to recruit graduate students, but they can never do science like we can.’ That is a flawed assumption. We have a whole new set of competitors. And that is a good thing. While science is partly a competitive enterprise, it is also a cooperative enterprise. I hope we can continue to partner with top universities around the world – to share, to exchange.”

Attracting the best and brightest will come down to innovative programming and understanding how a student wants to use their degree, he added.

“A graduate degree is not just one-sized-fits all. We need to help students get the degree they want, not the degree we think they want. We are starting to do that in Science; we need to do more of it. And for those who are more traditional, those research-based masters or PhD students, we need to give them something extra they won’t get at another university.”

With teaching and research interests in risk management and financial mathematics, and a particular focus on using these ideas to better finance and operate renewable and other energy infrastructures, Davison has published more than 65 papers, nine book chapters and 13 conference proceedings. He has had continuous Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery grant support since the beginning of his academic career and he has graduated 53 Master’s and 18 PhD students from his research group.