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Q&A with Colleagues

Hyacinth Simpson

Dr. Hyacinth Simpson

Dimensions Faculty Chair, Faculty of Arts and Associate Professor, Department of English

A Q&A on the Dimensions Pilot Program, the role of DFCs and advice for SRC activity during the spring/summer months. 

The Dimensions Faculty Chairs (DFCs) have been tasked with giving concrete shape to the objective of the Dimensions Pilot Program. The program is an initiative of the tri-agencies (NSERC (external link) , SSHRC (external link) , CIHR (external link) ) in collaboration with Universities Canada (external link)  and Colleges and Institutes Canada (external link) . Each Faculty/School within the University has a DFC, as do the professional librarians, so there are 8 of us working across the University. 

The Dimensions Pilot Program’s objective is "to foster transformational change within the research community at Canadian post-secondary institutions by identifying and eliminating obstacles and inequities, [and] support equitable access to funding opportunities, increase equitable and inclusive participation, and embed EDI-related considerations in research design and practices."

Each DFC has been actively collaborating with our peers and with the Dean/Associate Dean/Director in our individual units to figure out how to actualize this objective. In the process, we are developing communities of practice where, more and more, all of us learn how to identify and acknowledge barriers and inequities in our research cultures and eco-systems and develop and acquire the skills and tools needed to bring about meaningful change.

Over the 2-year period of the Dimensions Pilot from 2020-2022 (we are looking forward to continuing this work in the post-pilot period), the DFCs have set out to achieve specific objective-related goals. One goal is to build awareness within our communities of practice around the damaging effects that exclusionary “business as usual” models, perspectives and unconscious bias have on the SRC potential of individual faculty members (particularly those from equity-deserving groups), and also how they erode everyone’s research experience and limit what we have to offer in terms of knowledge creation within and outside our institution.

DFCs have been creating opportunities (workshops, simulations, webinars, one-on-one consultations, etc.) for faculty to build EDIA competency into their SRC undertakings and output. In encouraging faculty to improve their competency, we have been emphasizing that making inclusive excellence the benchmark for SRC work rather than simply an afterthought inevitably results in higher quality SRC experience and outcomes. 

We’ve also been working with Deans/Associate Deans/Directors to make structural and policy changes (even if they are small shifts initially) aimed at ensuring more equitable distribution of resources and to rethink how we will go forward in ways that put EDIA considerations front and center. 

This semester, Deans have been participating in a Deans & Dimensions series in which they work through, in conversation with each other, the Director of the Dimensions team and community members, their EDIA-and-SRC vision for their individual units. And we’ve also been liaising with the tri-agencies to prepare faculty members for the EDIA-revisions that are currently being made to the application process for external grants.

We are doing a number of other things as DFCs too, including facilitating a survey in order to produce data that will give us a sense of the EDIA concerns, especially in relation to SRC activities, that are paramount for our community members. The survey form can be  (google form) found here (external link)  and we encourage faculty and librarians who haven’t yet filled it out to please do so at their earliest convenience.

It is a lot of work, and as DFCs we are kept hopping! But it is work that’s worth doing.

I’ve been learning quite a lot about what it looks like to conceptualize an entire SRC project through an EDIA lens from my peers, and through the work I’m doing as a DFC. For example, I’ve become more conscious about how the questions I ask, or don’t ask, when I begin exploring my topic can skew the information I seek out and the conclusions that I draw; I am more aware of how some of the theoretical perspectives and assumptions that underpin my discipline marginalize or ignore other ways of understanding and being in the world; and I’m more committed to doing work that fills in the gaps in existing knowledge, particularly when those gaps result from the erasure of BIPOC from the public record and from the national imaginary. So, thankfully, the decolonial process is well underway in my own SRC work!

Recently, I have been giving priority to dissemination methods and outlets that allow especially non-academic communities to more easily access my research findings, and also engage directly in creating and responding to those findings. This includes using social media platforms as both research/information gathering tools and as dissemination outlets. Facebook and YouTube in particular have a lot of untapped potential. 

I think it’s fair to say that across most if not all academic disciplines certain ideas about what qualifies as a “reputable” SRC outlet have been concretized, to the detriment of innovation and real-world impact. It’s also true that there’s a tendency to privilege certain kinds of research outcomes and deliverables over others, without any consideration of how this limits the scope of the conversations that SRC undertakings are supposed to generate. Or how it participates in marginalizing the output of many faculty whose SRC work is community-based and oriented; or whose work is informed by epistemological frameworks that do not fit neatly with entrenched notions of what SRC work should be or how it should be done– to name just a few of the problems inherent in this way of thinking.

This is one of the EDIA in relation to SRC activities issues that we need to reassess head-on and honestly in academia. It’s exciting to see what the tri-agencies will be doing in terms of what will be recognized in the near future as allowable grant expenses for dissemination as they overhaul funding applications with the Dimensions Pilot Program’s objectives in mind. Many of my colleagues and I are also eager to be part of constructive change here at the University in rethinking the SRC evaluation lens and reassessing the evaluation criteria used by DECs and tenure & promotion committees.

One suggestion I have (and I’m still learning how to take my own advice!) is to take a real holiday at the end of the winter semester to fully recharge before refocusing on SRC work in a more concentrated way. Even more so if faculty are also supervising graduate students and/or teaching during the spring/summer. 

This seems self-evident, doesn’t it? But we tend to be so hard on ourselves. With the pandemic and lockdowns, there’s been a lot more attention on the importance of good mental health, on making sure that we are taking care of ourselves, and on creating work environments that make it possible for everyone to thrive. This kind of thinking needs to be mainstreamed more in academic environments, with a focus on how our University can provide faculty members with tangible support (beyond creating funding opportunities) to ensure these months prove optimal for research. 

When providing these supports, we need to keep in mind that members of equity-deserving groups are usually disproportionately disadvantaged in workplace cultures where active measures are not taken to eradicate inequities.

A practice for me that has resulted in good and steady SRC outcomes over the past few years is to map out a long-term project plan in which the goal is to complete a specific and impactful deliverable each spring/summer, and then set and maintain a regular rhythm for the project cycle. 

The results will be even better if, when mapping the plan, the yearly outcomes achieved each spring/summer are designed so they can stand alone as well as build cumulatively one on the other. 

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that no matter how well-intentioned we are, faculty can get only so much done in terms of SRC work during the fall and winter semesters because there are so many calls on our time. So for the past few years, I’ve been setting aside small chunks of time during the fall and winter semesters to move that year’s spring/summer SRC outcome along incrementally—whether that incremental movement takes the form of consolidating research networks and putting in place the structures necessary to collaborate with community partners; or it takes the form of making short presentations in which I work through the ideas that I then expand on in an article or book chapter that I complete during the research-intensive months. I think this approach works well whether the person is pre-tenure, mid-career, or a senior researcher looking for a second wind.

One other thing that comes to mind is to think carefully about the when and why of research grant applications. Securing (especially external) funding (the bigger the better!) is often held up as evidence of research success and is a big boost to faculty members’ SRC profiles. So we don’t always like to say the quiet part out loud, which is: grant application prep and writing is very time consuming; the success rate is low compared to the number of submitted applications; and sometimes a specific SRC outcome or set of outcomes can be achieved with other kinds of support or smaller grants provided internally. 

I’ve seen colleagues (and I’ve got caught up in this a couple of times myself) spend huge chunks of those precious spring/summer months preparing large external grant applications, especially applications with fall deadlines, when that time could have been used more advantageously. I suggest approaching grant application prep and writing as part of the long-term SRC project mapping I mentioned above instead of seeing it as a research outcome in itself. That way it’s easier to: figure out what parts of the project will require funding and when, decide which funding opportunities are good matches, and determine the best way to apply an inclusive excellence lens to the overall project to improve its quality and impact.