York Research Tower: Creating a new model for collaboration

Researchers, faculty, administrators and staff working in the York Research Tower gathered on May 4 to celebrate the new building’s role in fostering social science and humanities research across York University.

Above: The York Research Tower, which opened in September 2009, features some 84,000 square feet of space and houses 12 research centres and two research project teams

“York is a leading university in social sciences and humanities research, and nothing proves that more than a peer-review process,” said Mamdouh Shoukri, York’s president & vice-chancellor, referencing the recent successes of York researchers in securing a Killam Prize, two out of four of the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada’s (SSHRC) Major Collaborative Research Initiative awards, and a SSHRC Community-University Research Award.

“But having excellent researchers puts another level of responsibility on the University, which is to make absolutely sure that we have the environment and the support they need to reach their potential,” he said. “This building represents York’s commitment to building a research culture for success.”

The 10-storey building, which recently received Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certification (see story in More News), opened in September 2009 and features approximately 84,000 square feet (net) with wireless Internet access. It currently houses 12 research centres and two research project teams, and also provides office space for the Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) Unit and Advanced Broadband Enabled Learning (ABEL) group, which provide support services for researchers. The Office of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation, Office of Research Ethics and Office of Research Services occupy the fifth floor, along with extensive conference and meeting facilities (full occupant list).

“I think this is the best facility for social science and humanities research in the country, and our researchers deserve it,” said Stan Shapson (left), vice-president research & innovation. “In addition to many new technologies, it’s built on the Greek agora model of community that allows researchers to come together and collaborate, both with researchers across the University and with external groups. Some of the issues they’re studying can’t be solved in isolation. No one has all the knowledge or the strategy to do it all – we have to collaborate, which is also why we want the YRT to be a meeting place for the community to work with us.”

Chad Gaffield (left), president of SSHRC, was also present for the event as part of a daylong visit to York’s Keele campus. “We use e-communications to deepen and enrich relationships that are, at least periodically, complemented by physical contact,” he said. “The genius of the YRT is its confirmation of the importance of creating face-to-face contact and then complementing those interactions through information communications technology. It’s a new model of engaged scholarship and research.”

Professor Susan McGrath (below, right), director of the Centre for Refugee Studies on the research tower’s eighth floor, spoke about the importance of creating neighbourhoods for researchers. Since moving into the building, McGrath has formed new research connections with peers in the Centre for Asian Research, the Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean, and CERIS – The Ontario Metropolis Project, all of which are her neighbours on the eighth floor.

“Having neighbourliness, good meeting space and research resources under one roof is great,” said McGrath. “I hosted colleagues from all around the world here for a three-day session in the bright and spacious Conference Centre. With help from ABEL, we streamed parts of our meeting online, allowing those who weren’t able to travel here opportunities to participate. The facilities are fostering our sense of research culture and allowing us to work more collaboratively than I think we would have without it.”

Graduate students have also benefited from new space on floors six, seven and eight that was designed for them as researchers. “When you walk around the building, you see graduate students everywhere,” said Susan Henders, director of the York Centre for Asian Research. “They’re working on projects, relaxing in the lounges and interacting with their peers. It’s quality space that brings them into the centres and fosters their work and professional development, complementing their graduate program training.”

“One student told me that having study space made him feel valued as a researcher and professional in the making,” Henders continued. “I want to commend the University for its foresight in recognizing the critical role graduate students play in organized research units and research on the campus.”

Submitted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer