SIRI Director Q&A: Raising the bar on research excellence

Mark Roseman describes how his team fosters research excellence, via the federal granting system and the York Research Chairs program.

Mark Roseman joined York’s Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation last year as director, Strategic & Institutional Research Initiatives (SIRI). This group functions as an essential bridge between the University and the national granting agencies, and oversees the York Research Chairs program. Roseman’s portfolio recognizes the research excellence that exists on campus, raises the bar, and intensifies York’s leadership in research and innovation.

Mark Roseman, director, Strategic & Institutional Research Initiatives

To commemorate his one-year York anniversary, Roseman reflects on some key successes and offers unique insights into his team.

Q. What’s the raison d’être of the SIRI group?

A. SIRI was developed to provide project management and administrative project development expertise for larger interdisciplinary opportunities to assist York’s researchers in preparing the most competitive applications possible. This ties in perfectly with the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation’s goal to accelerate research at York, and to enhance our reputation as a research-intensive university. In many instances, the SIRI team also undertakes a full review of larger applications prior to submission.

Q. Describe the mandate of the SIRI portfolio.

A. The SIRI team helps principal investigators develop their grant applications and award nominations. We guide and support the proposal development, assist with content development and ensure compliance with respect to budgets and deadlines. We also provide high-level, institutional perspectives required on these nominations, so as to ensure that there’s a good fit with the strategic research plans of the institution.

Q. What are the criteria for the SIRI portfolio?

A. The programs that we support are high-profile, large-value grants, typically more than one million dollars. They are often institutional awards in that they are awarded to the University, as opposed to the principal investigator individually.

Q. Could you briefly profile the funding agencies with which you work most frequently?

A. We deal with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), which supports work in the natural sciences – such as physics, chemistry, biology – as well as engineering. We are also working with the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR), Canada’s federal funding agency for health research.

“The York Research Chairs program is designed to recognize excellence that’s already in existence at the University.”
– Mark Roseman

We also deal with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). At York, we have a long-standing tradition of excelling in the social sciences and humanities. The fourth agency is the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), which focuses on research infrastructure, primarily in the physical sciences.

Three members of a research team collaborate in a laboratory at York University

York University deals with NSERC, which supports work in the natural sciences – such as physics, chemistry, biology – as well as engineering

Q. Do you help York researchers with their grant applications? What, if any, services do you provide?

A. Yes. We work very closely with faculty members. We typically begin with a project charter meeting, and map out a timeline and a process to get us to the submission deadline.

We identify supports needed to build a successful application and manage internal and external peer review of applications as needed.

Q. What’s one critical piece of advice you could offer anyone in Canada who’s writing a grant application?

A. Be aware of your audience. In many instances, applications are reviewed by multidisciplinary panels − faculty members who may not be subject matter experts in the area of the application. So your writing needs to be accessible to them. If they can’t understand it, they can’t access it; if they can’t assess it, you’re not going to have success in a competition.

Two women look at a computer and collaborate on a document

The SIRI Office advises grant writers to make their writing accessible

Q. You also oversee the York Research Chairs or YRC program. Tell us about it.

A. The York Research Chairs (YRCs) is an internal program aimed at building research recognition and research capacity, with excellence in research, scholarship and associated creative activity being the selection criteria. Standards, expectations and supports for YRCs are the same as for the Canada Research Chairs program.

This program is designed to recognize excellence that’s already in existence at York; to help raise the bar in terms of the research activity that’s already going on. It’s a means to try and accelerate research leadership on campus.

Q. What are the most significant trends in research granting in Canada?

A. I think what we’ve seen over the years is that government, spurred by public demand, is looking for a return on their research dollar investments, recognizing that often times it’s hard to know where fundamental research is going to lead you.

There is a compelling case for research with socio-economic benefits for the province and the country. There’s often a section on grant applications that speaks to anticipated benefits in terms of the health and well-being of Canadians, the economy, job creation, etc.

We strive to demonstrate, to our funders and to the public, the value of the research activity that goes on at York.

“We strive to demonstrate, to our funders and to the public, the value of the research activity that goes on at York.”
– Mark Roseman

Q. Can you give a recent example of success?

A. Last year, York geography Professor Valerie Preston was awarded nearly $2.5 million through the SSHRC Partnership Grants program, plus an additional $1.2 million in partner contributions for a total of $3.7 million, for her project that looks at migration resiliency in urban Canada.

That was certainly a coup for us. My associate, Lisa Rumiel, was very involved in the development of that highly successful application.

Valerie Preston, at SSHRC grant announcement

Valerie Preston, at SSHRC grant announcement

Q. What can you say about the value of granting agencies to research in Canada?

A. I think we have a strong system in Canada. Between the Tri-Council agencies and CFI, there’s a solid base for research funding.

“York is very well positioned. I see good things on the road ahead for York’s research activities.”

Benefits include the discoveries – the outcomes of research investment − and the training of the highly qualified personnel that come through the system. These individuals don’t necessarily become faculty members – many enter the private and public sectors − but they all make substantive contributions to society.

“York is very well positioned. I see good things on the road ahead for York’s research activities.”
– Mark Roseman

With significant achievements to date, and armed for the future with an ambitious Strategic Research Plan and the Plan for the Intensification and Enhancement of Research (PIER), York is very well positioned to accelerate its success. I see good things on the road ahead for York’s research activities.

For more information, visit these online resources: York Research Chairs Program, the Strategic Research Plan, PIER, NSERC, SSHRC, CFI and CIHR.

By Megan Mueller, manager, research communications, Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation, York University, muellerm@yorku.ca