Engage in Global Challenges

From international to innovation: advancing research excellence at SFU

April 03, 2024
Dugan O’Neil is Simon Fraser University’s vice-president of research and innovation, a role that helps mobilize SFU’s research discoveries through its comprehensive innovation ecosystem.

Starting in April, the Vice-President Research and International Portfolio (VPRI) will change to Research and Innovation. This new title reflects some internal changes as well as the priorities of its 2023-2028 Strategic Research Plan (SRP).

SFU International, the hub of international relationships and resources to mobilize the university’s global reach, will move from the VPRI portfolio to the Provost and Vice-president Academic (VPA) Office. The move will allow SFU to develop a coordinated strategic approach to global engagement and bring SFU International into the same portfolio as International Services for Students, which already reports to the provost. It also aligns the reporting structure with most other Canadian universities.

Innovation in the VPRI title reflects the ongoing work of the Office of the VPRI to support and promote SFU’s comprehensive innovation ecosystem. This interdisciplinary, university-wide ecosystem provides a continuum of entrepreneurial and innovation programming to help mobilize research discoveries. SFU also works collaboratively with partners to help Canadian innovations make a positive social, economic and environmental impact on the world stage.

Overall, the changes will help advance the strategic direction of both innovation and international activities at SFU, and help the university to best serve its students, faculty, staff and communities.

We spoke to Dugan O'Neil about innovation at SFU and the change within the VPRI portfolio.

Can you explain why this title change is taking place? What does this change mean for the portfolio?

For the research portfolio overall, nothing has changed. Innovation is a key part of the research enterprise at SFU, and the title change more closely reflects the work I support, and what we are already doing. My office continues to work with the associate vice-president, knowledge mobilization and innovation (AVPKMI) and the associate vice-president, research (AVPR) to increase the visibility and impact of innovation at SFU.

For SFU International, it is an opportunity to align international partnerships, international student recruitment efforts and other international activities within one portfolio, the VPA. Most universities in Canada have this reporting structure and SFU was an outlier. This change will provide SFU International with strategic direction, support and resources within the VPA Office. And SFU International will maintain the strong ties to the VPRI portfolio that have allowed it to deliver outstanding services to the university. 

Tell us more about innovation excellence at SFU and how to you hope to advance the university-wide innovation ecosystem?

SFU demonstrates innovation leadership in numerous and impressive ways. As an institution, we have been recognized for this internationally through the World University Rankings for Innovation (#1 in Canada) and the 2023 Deshpande Symposium Award. We have several recent initiatives which demonstrate our unique approach: we are leading the transition to a greener, cleaner future with research in clean energy through the SFU Hydrogen Hub; we are helping communities adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change through community-centred climate innovation; we are helping small and medium sized B.C. companies grow through the B.C. Centre for Agritech Innovation; and we are proud to host the Quantum Algorithms Institute to facilitate the growth of quantum industry in B.C.

Our goal is to increase the reach and impact of innovation at SFU by helping our researchers translate their discoveries into real world applications and to collaborate with academic, industry and government to advance Canadian innovations.

How can government and others support innovation at SFU?

In an op-ed for Canadian Science Policy Magazine AVPKMI Elicia Maine discussed the importance of supporting Canadian university science in general and especially in areas of deep tech. For example, Canada is at the forefront in emerging clean hydrogen technologies, and we are also leading the way in developing a viable quantum internet. Both areas could potentially lead to the creation of hundreds of companies and thousands of high-quality jobs. I would urge policymakers and governments to take action to secure Canadian leadership and support Canadian talent in areas like quantum technologies, clean hydrogen, health technologies, agritech—areas where Canadian universities like SFU are leading the way.

What excites you most about the future of research and innovation at SFU?

At the institutional level, SFU has several major and exciting projects underway. Community-centred climate innovation is an important university-wide endeavour. The new SFU Medical School at the Surrey Campus is another important priority that will offer countless opportunities for our researchers and students. We will continue to support SFU’s commitments to What’s Next? The SFU Strategy, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and to implement all of the projects outlined in our Strategic Research Plan.

On a more personal note, I am a physicist, so I am always excited by expanding the foundations of our collective knowledge through fundamental research—there is nothing quite like the moment of discovering something new. I look forward to helping our researchers and students engage in knowledge discovery—and expand their horizons.

How can people get involved?

Visit sfu.ca/research/km-innovation/innovation to learn more.