Research2Reality co-founder Professor Molly Shoichet was recently selected to become Ontario’s first Chief Scientist, making her Premier Kathleen Wynne’s go-to advisor on science policy and evidence-based decision making. Here, we unpack some of the details on the role, as well as the credentials that made Shoichet the provincial government’s top pick.
Ontario has a Chief Scientist and a Minister for Science – what’s the difference?
First and foremost, the Minister is an elected official with a public mandate, whereas the Chief Scientist has more of an advisory role to the current government. While Minister Reza Moridi focuses on spearheading research and innovation in Ontarian science, Shoichet will support his role and promote evidence-based decision making throughout government.
“So of course we already have that, but can we do a better job of it?” said Shoichet in an interview with Metro Morning. “I have the opportunity to work with ministers across government and see how science and evidence can influence decisions so we’re all making better decisions.”
Her advice will go right to the heart of policy-making, which will be crucial for encouraging foreign direct investment by showcasing the talent and potential of Ontarian scientists: “I think there’s an opportunity to work with colleagues both in government and externally, and also to look at what policies we can work on to make Ontario look more competitive.”
Thanks to her intimate knowledge of the province’s scientific community and its flagship projects, she will be in constant communication with all major research institutions, from hospital research units to universities and labs. From here, she can offer the most comprehensive and relevant information to government officials when they consider how to support these ventures.
Thinking long term, the new Chief Scientist will also contribute towards the development of Ontario’s science strategy for the next generation of research and innovation. She will advise on how and where investment should be placed, which fields take precedence, and how all of this can consolidate Ontario’s position globally.
The creation of this position is part of the provincial government’s broader commitment toward making science an integral part of the economy via the five-year, $650-million Business Growth Initiative. Part of the commitment is to boost the number of STEM graduates by 25% and invest $30 million in a program designed to increase levels of applied master’s graduates in artificial intelligence.
Who is Professor Molly Shoichet and what are her landmark achievements?
Shoichet is a global leader in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine with over 500 papers and dozens of national and international awards to her name. She leads the University of Toronto-based Shoichet Lab, whose research focus is on using hydrogels to protect stem cells after they are injected into the body. These hydrogels act like a protective bubble and assist the stem cells in their survival and eventual integration into tissues which can reverse the damage caused by many different diseases, such as macular degeneration.
When she’s not in a lab coat, she can be found lecturing the up-and-coming scientists of the future or supporting outreach programs such as the Young Women in Engineering Symposium. Canada has three national academies, and Shoichet is the only person to be a fellow of them all – the Canadian Academy of Engineering, the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, and the Canadian Academy of Sciences of the Royal Society of Canada.
Commenting on the promotion, her colleague, Minister Reza Moridi said, “She is one of the top biomedical scientists in the country, with in-depth knowledge of Ontario’s research community. As Chief Scientist, she will help us continue a proud tradition of science and research excellence through evidence-based decision making and will open the world to the incredible innovative talent and technologies Ontario has to offer.”