Institutional announcements

Meet AVPR Michael Richards: Supporting research with real-world impact

October 18, 2022
Simon Fraser University’s new associate vice-president, research Michael Richards aims to help strengthen SFU’s international reputation and support research with real-world impact.

Michael Richards joined the Office of the Vice-President, Research and International on July 1, 2022 as Simon Fraser University’s new associate vice-president, research (AVPR).

Richards is a professor of archaeology and a Canada Research Chair in Archaeological Science, who applies methods such as isotopic analysis to determine past human and animal diets and adaptations. Before SFU, Richards was a professor at the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany and a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. He was also a Wellcome Trust University Award holder and then professor in the Department of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom and a professor of Archaeology at the University of Durham, U.K. Richards is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada—Canada’s highest academic honour. He earned his PhD at the University of Oxford and has an undergraduate and Master’s degree in Archaeology from SFU.

Michael Richards, associate vice-president, research.

The AVPR is a full-time leadership role that supports the priorities and objectives of the VPRI Office. A key objective of the role is supporting the implementation of SFU’s Strategic Research Plan that positions the university to grow its capacity in research and knowledge mobilization. The AVPR manages key institutional opportunities, such as institutional level funding proposals and strategic partnerships. The AVPR also plays a significant role in ensuring SFU’s infrastructure and research operations continue to meet the needs of its faculty members. SFU’s Core Facilities Program falls under the purview of the AVPR.

Richards is well-positioned in his role to ensure the SFU research community receives the support and services needed to develop and deliver research programs with meaningful impact across the communities we serve. 

We met with Richards to discuss his SFU journey and role as the university’s AVPR.

What attracted you to the role of AVPR?

I have spent much of my career in research positions in Canada, the U.K. and Germany, and I saw this as an opportunity to bring the experience and perspectives I have gained in other institutions and countries to this role to help support SFU as a strong research-focused university. I found that for some fields SFU is very well-known internationally, and I hope to have a hand in maintaining and expanding our international and our national research reputation.

What makes you passionate about research as a whole? What do you love most about your own research?

Like many of our faculty members, I was drawn to my research area, archaeology, at a young age. Being from a working-class family where no other family members had been to university before I did not realize that it was even possible to be able to pursue research as a career. I was an undergraduate student at SFU, and it really opened my eyes to the world of academia and the world of research, for which I will always be grateful to SFU. As I travelled later in my career and had different academic positions in different countries I came to see research as a common pursuit often with its own common language. This allows us to work with people from around the world with similar research passions. My research career has allowed me to meet colleagues—many of whom are now friends—from so many different countries and backgrounds.

What SFU research developments on the horizon are you most looking forward to?

SFU has a strong commitment to research, and a particular focus on practical research that has real-world implications. I feel that three of our big challenges are: adapting to climate change; preparing for pandemics; and countering the rise of misinformation. SFU has made strong commitments to these areas, and I look forward to helping strengthen SFU’s research profile in these areas. I am also very passionate about ‘blue-sky’ research where our faculty members should be free and encouraged to pursue their research interests without perhaps any clear link to modern-day practical issues. SFU has an excellent reputation for both kinds of research and I hope to help keep our reputation and fully support our faculty and students in their research.

What would you like the SFU community to know about you?

I am very lucky that my research spans humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. This means I have a broad curiosity about research in general, and I have enjoyed learning about the range of excellent and exciting research happening at SFU. I am open to hearing about research ideas from across disciplines, so would very much encourage the SFU community to reach out with their research ideas if there are ways we can help. In terms of me personally, and my research, I must admit I sometimes think my research area is maybe not the most relevant or of wide interest—but last week a colleague from my time at the Max Planck Institute, research collaborator and friend Svante Paabo, won a Nobel Prize for his work on ancient human genomes. This confirms what I said earlier about strongly supporting blue-sky, curiosity-driven research, as the practical and societal implications may not be immediately clear, but may eventually—and unexpectedly—lead to major research breakthroughs.

Learn more about the current status of SFU’s next Strategic Research Plan