News: Collaborating for success in Basic Medical Sciences

Susanne Schmid, PhD, started her term as Vice Dean, Basic Medical Sciences, on July 1. An experienced academic leader and internationally recognized neuroscientist, her new portfolio covers a wide range of activities, from undergraduate and graduate programs to research activities to faculty engagement.

Schmid spoke to us about her priorities as Vice Dean, opportunities for Basic Medical Sciences at the School and the upcoming academic year.

What are your priorities for the Basic Medical Sciences portfolio?

One of my biggest priorities is to consolidate our research endeavours. Research is becoming a very collaborative and interdisciplinary undertaking, and that effects everything we do – the teaching, the science, the way we organize our departments. It has implications for the whole organization.

A lot of research is driven by our graduate trainees and postdoctoral fellows. We need look at solid sources of funding for them, and to make sure that conducting research does not become prohibitively expensive for our basic science faculty – so a big focus is helping to maintain active research programs.

With this in mind, we recently launched the Dean’s Research Scholarship program to support MSc and PhD students and enhance collaborative research at the School. Ten students were awarded these scholarships for 2020-21.

It is also extremely important to further develop our educational programs. Schulich Medicine & Dentistry has a great reputation across Canada and beyond, and we’re currently building an Interdisciplinary Medical Sciences graduate program that will help put the School on the map in this key area. We want to attract the brightest students from across Canada and internationally.

I’m also focused on faculty mentorship. There are a lot of opportunities to build in this area and develop a more organic form of mentoring for young faculty members. Right now, faculty members arrive, often from another institution, and they have to name a mentor, but they don’t really know anyone. A mentor relationship has to grow; it is based on trust. My goal is to revamp the program and to put a more supportive structure in place for faculty.

I’d also like to initiate a specific peer group for female faculty. I’ve benefitted from female role models, who put me in a position where I could imagine taking on leadership positions. We still have a low number of female faculty at the School, so role models like this are extremely important.

Lastly, we have started to look at Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and anti-racism at the School – there is a lot of work to be done in the future, we are just beginning to understand the underlying issues.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I try to be extremely transparent and communicate as much as possible. I also like to empower others to take on roles and responsibilities. And I’m not shy when making decisions.

I’m also deeply committed to implementing transparent and clear processes and to communicate them effectively.

What are the strengths of the Basic Medical Sciences portfolio at the School?

One of the emerging strengths is the collaboration between departments. Leaders at the School are recognizing that the world is becoming more interdisciplinary and collaborative and are working to advance both research and teaching initiatives that reflect this.

We’re also building bridges between the clinical and basic sciences. And a lot of this is taking place at the grassroots level, between individual clinicians and basic scientists, which is extremely important and valuable.

What are your thoughts heading into an unprecedented start to the academic year?

During these pandemic times, the School is leading the way with a return to campus for students and trainees. We’re the first faculty to put in place a process for ‘Year X’ funding (supplemental funding to cover a timeline extension on graduate studies) and there are many other examples where the School took a leadership role at Western to implement processes, to communicate and to manage this difficult situation. It’s been a really exceptional effort with research and with the move to online teaching.

I’m very optimistic going into the new academic year. There will be setbacks, as it’s difficult to predict what will happen, but we’re in a very good place. The spirit within the School community is very collaborative; we’re moving forward and developing solutions together.