NRC’s Chief Science Officer wants to ensure research excellence remains a defining characteristic of the organization

Mark Henderson
December 4, 2019

By Mark Henderson

After retiring from a 30-year career at the National Research Council in 2016, Dr. Danial Wayner returned last year to take on a dual advisory role to assist in expanding its outward focus and reinforce its quest for continuous research excellence.

Beginning his career as a student researcher in the 1980s and ending as the executive in charge of emerging technologies, Wayner is providing a challenge function within the NRC as its chief science officer, to ensure that strategic planning across the organization is aligned with research excellence. And as the departmental science advisor, he is dedicated to strengthening ties between the NRC and other government departments and agencies while working with the government's Chief Science Advisor on government-wide initiatives such as research integrity, open science, open data and open government.

Wayner’s roles are part of an extensive re-imagining under the direction of NRC President Iain Stewart, which has been ongoing since 2016, with a primary focus on ensuring research excellence.

“It’s pretty exciting for me to come back to the organization after having taken a break for almost three years. I see so much optimism in the staff when I go around the organization,” says Wayner, speaking to RE$EARCH MONEY. “In imagining the culture we need for research excellence, we also need to create a culture of collaboration. It’s hard to separate those things.”

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Excellent science was a central element of the original mandate letter Stewart received from the Prime Minister in 2015 – a term that was expanded to research excellence, so as to encompass the work of all NRC employees including engineers and technicians.

“The challenge is, how do we ensure we are providing excellent service to industrial clients today while investing enough in what’s on the horizon to ensure that we are as relevant a few years down the road as we are today? That’s part of my challenge function,” says Wayner.

Stronger collaboration with IRAP

In addition to ongoing dialogue with NRC’s executives, Wayner is actively engaged with the 14 research centres: discussing their newly minted strategic plans, career paths, professional recognition and, perhaps most importantly, their engagement with the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP).

He says the degree of collaboration between the NRC labs and IRAP is the “biggest internal change” he’s seen since his return. That bodes well for companies engaging with IRAP, who are now better able to tap into the research capabilities of NRC’s research laboratories when seeking out partners to enhance and scale their new product and service offerings. To that end, IRAP can now fund industry projects up to $10 million (up from $1 million) and has introduced a certificate program that allows IRAP to support SMEs, to do work with NRC as well as other government, industry and not-for-profit partners.

“There’s a much greater IRAP understanding of the capabilities across NRC and also the NRC research centres' understanding of the value IRAP brings to the table when they start thinking about their own innovation agendas,” he says. “There’s a greater level of internal collaboration than I’ve ever seen before and that goes back 35 years I’ve been at NRC. It’s better now than I’ve ever seen it.”

Rejuvenating the talent pool

Wayner is also happy to see a new emphasis on attracting students and post docs to the NRC which he views as a key element in the organization’s rejuvenation. It’s from this young talent pool that the NRC often gets its best research ideas and provides a pipeline for research excellence or what he describes as “planting the seeds for the future”.

“The students and post docs represent our future, so, to the extent we can attract the highest quality students and best possible post docs from around the world, we have to recruit excellent people,” he says. “I was a summer student at NRC in 1979 and 1980 and that is the reason I decided I wanted to come back as a post doc … I ended up staying because the opportunity arose for me to get a good job here which was my career.”

With less than two years remaining in his three-year term, Wayner says he plans to continue trying to instill the culture of excellence now germinating within the NRC — a culture that convinced him the NRC was the place where he wanted to spend his career.

“We’re heading back to wanting to create a culture [of research excellence] that kind of disappeared — the idea of scientists are not just curious but feeling empowered to actually explore that curiosity,” he says. “If I can do something that is long lasting before the end of my term, it would be to bring back the culture of what we call a skunk works within the organization. I would like to try to think more holistically about what it takes to sustain research excellence over the period of a generation.”


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