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Canadian Innovation

How Transdisciplinary Scholarship Accelerates Innovation at UCalgary

Dr. William Ghali

Vice-President (Research),  UCalgary

Dr. Stephen Larter

Associate Vice-President (Research & Innovation), UCalgary

UCalgary leads Canadian innovation as the top research-based startup creator, accelerating positive outcomes through transdisciplinary scholarship and creating meaningful community impact.

Research-intensive institutions play a major role in the Canadian innovation landscape. The University of Calgary is a leader in this space as the number one research-based startup creator for the second year in a row. Research and discovery are the bedrock of innovation and while commercialization efforts are one facet of innovation, UCalgary is accelerating its innovation efforts, creating positive outcomes and value for our communities through a transdisciplinary approach.

The power of collaboration 

“We’re drawing our research groups together to tackle the big questions and opportunities in Canada that require expertise, collaboration, and input from across disciplines,” says Dr. William Ghali, Vice-President (Research) at UCalgary.

Transdisciplinary scholarship at UCalgary encourages and enables researchers to focus on environmental, social, and economic justice while addressing challenges across five areas: cities and societies, digital worlds, health and life, energy transition, and democracy and social change.

One Health at UCalgary is an example of a longstanding collaborative research program that has taken a transdisciplinary approach to address the health and life of people, animals, and the environment. Firstline, a free mobile app to aid clinical decisions in the global fight against antimicrobial resistance in humans and animals, is an innovation that came from more than a decade of collaboration and research across the university. The app has been adopted into practice in centres across Canada, the United States, and the European Union.

Making connections 

In May, UCalgary received a historic $125-million investment from the Government of Canada’s Canada First Research Excellence Fund for the One Child Every Child program. The transdisciplinary research program is designed to transform child health in Canada and beyond by uniting researchers, community and global partners, Indigenous communities, health care providers, equity-deserving groups, and educators around a shared vision. One Child Every Child enables connections across groups that may not typically engage with each other — but over 130 partners agree that those connections are necessary to build a world where all children are healthy, empowered, and thriving. 

“Transdisciplinary scholarship is an invaluable framework we can use to address complex challenges, as we are with One Health and One Child Every Child,” says Dr. Ghali. “By bringing unique perspectives and knowledge together, our researchers can advance innovative solutions and make meaningful impacts that wouldn’t be possible without these connections across disciplines and sectors.”

Accelerating change

Innovation and transdisciplinary research go hand in hand, and the innovation ecosystem at UCalgary is core to supporting the success of these activities. 

“Researchers need to be creative in transforming research discovery to practical outcomes for the community,” says Dr. Stephen Larter, Associate Vice-President (Research and Innovation) at UCalgary. “The traditional process and structure of academia can be a barrier to the innovation process. Transdisciplinary approaches can help to accelerate change, but they require the proactive support of the institution and new mindsets from students and staff.”

In traditional academic settings, researchers may lack non-traditional skills such as awareness and understanding of the invention process, the recognition of solutions in the new knowledge derived from research results, and how faculty structure can often be a barrier to working across disciplines. However, through entrepreneurial and transdisciplinary programming, mentorship, and funding, UCalgary is clearing the path for researchers and students to achieve meaningful community impact.

Fostering an ecosystem

Since its launch in 2017, UCalgary’s Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking has provided programming and resources for students and researchers. Now, UCalgary is creating physical space dedicated to innovation and creativity with the University Innovation Quarter (UIQ). The UIQ will help build, develop, and scale solutions, policies, research, and inventions while creating a complete ecosystem that brings community, researchers, entrepreneurs, and investors together in a transdisciplinary approach to foster and support the innovation process in Calgary. 

“Our vision is not solely limited to Calgary or the university setting,” says Dr. Larter. “Our leadership in the innovation space, supported by governments, has led to the launch of more effective intellectual-property education and processes across Alberta and other parts of Canada, so UCalgary is able to support innovators from local to global.”

Universities can and must work together with communities, international partners, and industry to address challenges and opportunities for impact.

With a focus on creating impact through research, innovation, and transdisciplinary scholarship, UCalgary is helping to build the Canadian knowledge economy, where economic activity is founded in discovery from fundamental and applied research, and the downstream tangible benefits that arise from it.

“Universities can and must work together with communities, international partners, and industry to address challenges and opportunities for impact,” says Dr. Ghali. “Our commitment to real outcomes and impact at UCalgary is rooted through this responsibility — to engage our communities, foster those relationships, and advance them through collaborative work.”

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