President’s Desk

Ted Hewitt

Ted Hewitt
President, SSHRC

Interview with SSHRC President on “la rentrée”

In French, it’s known as “la rentrée:” when students, workers, and college and university professors return from summer holidays and the unofficial new year begins. To mark the occasion, and as part of the September issue of Dialogue, we asked SSHRC President Ted Hewitt for some thoughts on the social sciences and humanities for those heading back to Canadian postsecondary institutions this fall.

 Parents and students often wonder which degrees or diplomas will yield the most successful career. Is now a good time to be a scholar in the social sciences and humanities?

 There is no better time to be a student pursuing a degree in the social sciences and humanities. The students in these disciplines stand to make the biggest impact on some of the key challenges in front of us today, and ahead of us tomorrow. Their research will help enhance how we adapt to, manage and understand issues that are affecting Canada’s social fabric.

There is also a common concern that pursuing studies in the social sciences and humanities will lead to low earnings and limited career progression. A recent study led by Ross Finnie, director of the Education Policy Research Initiative at the University of Ottawa, shows us something different. The study looked at the earnings of postsecondary graduates from 2005 to 2013, and found that social sciences and humanities graduates experience more than a 70 per cent earnings growth over an eight-year period. This is similar to the rate of increases for engineering and science graduates.

Are you optimistic about funding for researchers in the social sciences and humanities?

 Yes, very much so. The contribution made by our disciplines to the well-being and prosperity of Canadians has been increasingly well recognized. Budget 2016 provided an additional $95 million in new annual resources for the granting councils. This includes $16 million for SSHRC, which is the largest increase in the past 10 years. The increased funding reflects a growing recognition of the importance of the social sciences and humanities.

We expect that we will continue to receive funding to support, in significant measure, the kind of open investigative-driven research for which SSHRC is known. This allows researchers to pursue research that is important to them and to Canada, across all disciplines in the social sciences and humanities.

Support for students is an important part of this picture. In 2016, we funded 8,200 students—directly through scholarships and indirectly through other types of grants. We also supported 13,500 researchers, many of whom employ students to work with them on projects.

What are your priorities for the upcoming year?

░ Earlier this year, we released SSHRC’s 2016-20 strategic plan, so our focus will be on its implementation. As outlined in this plan, our current priorities are to enable excellence in a changing research landscape, create opportunities for research and training through collaborative initiatives, and connect social sciences and humanities research with Canadians. We will speak with stakeholders and work closely with staff to ensure our organization is moving forward as effectively and efficiently as possible.

We will also be preparing to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary. To start things off, SSHRC has launched a series of Connection Grants focused on supporting activities and events honouring this historic event. We will be supporting and actively participating in Congress 2017, where we will celebrate Canada’s history, legacy and achievements over the last 150 years, and look to the next 150.

What does the research landscape look like into the future? How will SSHRC help students adapt to change?

The research environment is changing as a result of a number of factors, including the growth of multidisciplinary perspectives, the use of big data, increased international collaboration and the engagement of non-academic sectors. As a result, the roles and expectations for Canada’s postsecondary education and graduate training are also changing.

Helping researchers and students work within this shifting research landscape is one of our priorities, as laid out in our new strategic plan. In accordance with the plan, SSHRC will work with Canadian postsecondary institutions, as well as other organizations, to build and sustain a strong and innovative research and training environment. Some ways in which SSHRC will do this are by promoting open access of research data, streamlining the granting process and supporting and advancing research conducted by and with Canada’s Aboriginal communities.

What are you most proud of, now that you have been president for over a year?

░ First off, I’m very proud of the way SSHRC staff, management and other stakeholders have worked to create our latest strategic plan. This was a real milestone for us in the way that it has focused our attention on both our mandate and selective areas of focus important to our community.

I’m also very pleased with the way we have developed unique tools to communicate and connect with Canadians. Our Storytellers contest is a great example of this. The postsecondary students who compete stand as shining examples of Canada’s next generation of research communicators.

I also take a great deal of pride in the quality of our programs for researchers and graduate students, and our success in delivering programs like the Canada Research Chairs on behalf of the government’s other research funding agencies.

Lastly, an example of SSHRC’s excellent programming is the Imagining Canada’s Future initiative, which captures how we’re connecting with researchers and Canadians to demonstrate the value of social sciences and humanities in the years ahead. In the coming months, we’ll be looking at renewing this initiative to better meet some of the challenges and ambitions laid out in our strategic plan.

Other SSHRC president editorials:

Arrival, the movie: How linguistics saved the world? (University Affairs, January 2017)

Could “Uberification” be an opportunity rather than a threat? (The Hill Times, October 2016—subscription required)

Moving beyond the “moonshot” approach to innovation (iPolitics, August 2016)

Canada’s researchers eager to support truth and reconciliation efforts (University Affairs, January 2016)

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action

Good research key to helping refugees, youth flourish (Chronicle Herald, January 2016)

"It’s time to ‘think different’ about innovation" (The Hill Times, November 2015—subscription required)

Libre accès pour le bien public (Découvrir, May 2015)

"Canada’s newest resource is flexible, sustainable, potentially unlimited" (The Hill Times, October 2014—subscription required)

"Canadian Research on Social Licensing Can Bridge the Gap in Technological Innovation" (The Hill Times, July 2014—subscription required)