STEM Researchers in Canada Meet at the 5th Annual Science Leadership Program

Article by: Nina Rafeek

Nancy Houfek, one of the workshop facilitators in the Science Leadership Program (SLP) said the 2+ day conference is the highlight of her year: “this is the crème de la crème of the academic world”, she exclaimed.  Houfek presents workshops combining communication, negotiation and leadership techniques for corporations, think tanks, universities, and professional organizations throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

On April 19th 2017, the SLP started with an art-themed reception at Massey College, University of Toronto. Participants got a chance to become acquainted in the Massey Hall Common Room over cocktails and appetizers and pieces of art, which they used as tools to help introduce themselves.  

Most of the participants were not sure what to fully expect from the intense training workshops and especially from the art opening reception. Many of them applied  to the program because of the positive reviews they had received from past participants.   Applicants  are selected based on their excellence and experience in research and their willingness and passion for communicating science.

After about 45 minutes of mixing and mingling, Professor Molly Shoichet started the evening with a welcome message and spoke of her past experiences of the SLP, which she refers to as “the jewel in the crown of the Science and Engineering Engagement”.  

Professor Vivek Goel, Vice President of Research and Innovation at the U of T, officially opened the conference with a keynote address.  He used anecdotes from his career as examples to explain the importance of timing and precision when communicating scientific research and securing funding for future research endeavours. Professor Goel provided the participants with 3 tips that he learned throughout his career: have a vision, remember to ask for help and always trust your team.  

The participants were then invited to introduce themselves through a piece of self-chosen art. From the symbolism of Akido to Salvador Dali’s portrait of Picasso, many of the pieces highlighted their creative and adventurous sides as well as the beauty and complexity of their own work, while others chose pieces that made them reminisce of their home country or favourite vacation destination. One participant notably compared himself to a Swiss Army knife because of his unique skill set, while another participant likened herself to a nerve cell because she is a “team player”.  One participant brought his own work of art that he created in an art class he almost walked out of, but instead, found a new hobby outside of the lab.  

Martin Bloxham and Peter Redstone of the Barefoot Thinking Company also reprised their facilitator role at the annual event. Bloxham said that the participants of the SLP program are “always great to work with”.  Bloxham and his partner Redstone have developed and delivered leadership and strategic thinking training to a range of clientele since 2009.  They forayed into the academic world though the Leopold Leadership Program at Stanford University.  

The art-themed reception maintained a steady flow of handshakes, smiles and laughs. It set the tone for the remainder of a unique workshop that is known to take researchers and scientists out of their comfort zone.

The Science Leadership Program is supported financially by the Connaught Fund and U of T Science and Engineering Engagement (SEE). It is typically held in the spring but the call for applicants occurs as early as October. For information about the next SLP, keep an eye out at http://scienceengagement.utoronto.ca/programs/.