Interview with Janet Halliwell, new member of the CSP Board

March 29, 2015

By Jenny Ryan

Janet Halliwell is the newest member of the CSP Board of Directors.  She brings a wealth of experience in science and technology policy and governance to the table along with much much more. I had the great pleasure of interviewing Janet recently. She is a remarkable woman with lots to share. Read on...

Q: Rumour has it you share some history with one of our journals… can you explain further?

Yes indeed! My first position in Ottawa was as a Technical Editor with the Canadian Journal of Chemistry (CJC). In the Spring of 1975, having just moved from Kingston when my husband got a job at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), I was just starting to think about finding a job. Before I had even started a job search, a chance telephone call from a former colleague alerted me to the fact that CJC was about to hire a Technical Editor. The whole process of application, proof reading test and interview went fast – as I recall within 2 weeks - and before I knew it I was hired on. Good thing, as my not working was really tough on my husband; I am quite impossible to live with if I don’t have a pretty full agenda – even today!     

CJC cover c. 1970
Canadian Journal of Chemistry cover circa 1970.

Q: How did your work on CJC help your career? Where did it lead? Any fond memories from that time?

Absolutely, yes! NRC was a great employer. I enjoyed exposure to both the process of publication (in the years when things were still typeset!) and interactions the research community across Canada. I still retain fond memories of the people that I worked with, especially CJC Editor, Ken Kutschke, and then Editor-in-Chief of the Research Journals, Paul Redhead, who were incredible mentors and friends. This was also my first in depth exposure to the peer review process – something that would stand me in good stead when I made my next career move. 

In 1977 I moved to the position of Assistant Awards Officer with the then Office of Grants and Scholarships at the NRC. I was hired on to design and manage the new and controversial program of Strategic Grants. It was to be launched with new funds provided by the federal government for “research in areas of national concern”. A year later, I was a founding staff member of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). My appointment to the CJC staff put me in the right place at the right time to launch a science policy career!    

Q: What would you consider your greatest career accomplishment? 

This is a tough question. Others are probably better at answering this than I am. And I am not sure I could single out any one thing – rather it is a series of things that seem to have made a difference in the Canadian research ecosystem. I have always had a passion for the context in which science is done (science policy), and early on recognized that this was where I could make real contributions rather than actually doing research. Within NSERC, and with the support of some amazing researchers, I championed and strengthened the core discovery grants program, while finding new ways to support major collaborative initiatives that did not fit the program structures of the day. Two examples include the Lithoprobe project (earth sciences) and the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory that have both changed the face of the research landscape in Canada. Since my NSERC days, I have been fortunate enough to be involved in shaping many of the major initiatives that are part of the research landscape today – the Canada Foundation for Innovation (where I helped to launch the first competition), the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (I was a member of the design team for the transformation from MRC - Medical Research Council), Canada Research Chairs (in my capacity as Executive VP at SSHRC) and much more …  
In all of these activities, my objective has been to forge the conditions for creativity, excellence and evolution in how research is done and how it affects the fabric of Canadian life. 

Q: What advice do you have for early career professionals whether in academia, publishing or policy?

A few suggestions that capture some of my own experiences:
  • Know and then be true to your principles.
  • Build your reputation, and at the same time confidence, in doing a job – any job – very, very well.  Your initial career positions may seem less than exciting or demanding, but look for the satisfaction in doing your best at all times. 
  • Value relationships, including those with people who think differently that you do   
  • Self-assess what skills you need to hone to be successful – e.g. in public presentations or clear writing – and push yourself out of your comfort zone if need be to get experience. Don’t be afraid to fail …  
  • Always treat others as you would like to be treated, even if the favour is not returned! 
  • Be professional, but allow “a sense of the absurd”. 

Q: Tell us a bit about what you do in your spare time? 

What do you mean – spare time??? In addition to diverse professional activities, I have a pretty-much full-time life in the voluntary sector on Salt Spring: 
  • Chair, Grants and Awards Committee for the Salt Spring Arts Council 
  • Member, Executive Committee- Salt Spring National Arts Prize (SSNAP) – inaugural year 2015
  • Member Artists in Residence Committee, Salt Spring Arts Council 
  • Vice Chair, Shared Space Society Salt Spring  
  • Vegetable gardening – as of mid March, I have already picked my first bit of produce for 2015 – purple sprouting broccoli that over-winters here; of course the rosemary has been in bloom much of the winter here on Salt Spring Island ! 
  • Cooking – cook what you grow and more, I do love good food … including French (e.g. Julia Child), Italian (e.g. Marcia Hazan and Vickram Vij), Asian (e.g. Alford and Duguid)
  • Wine – to accompany fine food 
  • First Nations art 
  • Cats – Sapphire and Cayenne  

Sapphire and Cayenne. 

Q: Tell us a bit about why you decided to accept the invitation to join the CSP Board? 

While I seem to have a problem saying the word “no” to invitations to join Boards or to take on new tasks, I have actually declined several overtures in recent months, but the CSP invitation caused me to think twice – for several reasons:
  • CSP is a small but vital element of the infrastructure for Canadian research – and I was intrigued with the opportunity to see first-hand the changes since my experience with CJC in the mid 1970s, hopefully contributing to CSP’s further evolution.   
  • I know many of the Board members and have a great deal of respect for them and their enormous contributions to stewardship of Canadian research. 
  • The invitation came just as I was finishing my service on another Board – and hence I felt that I could convince myself I was not adding too extreme a burden on my workload! 

 Q: What are some of your goals as a member of the CSP Board?

My first goal is simply to become better acquainted with how CSP operates and the issues that are the most pressing from a business perspective. And then I would like to indulge in some strategic thinking about the role of CSP in a changing research ecosystem – what are the opportunities and threats on the horizon and how we position ourselves proactively … but this may already be well in hand given the strength of the existing Board and what I see of its activities on the web.     

Q: You bring a wealth of expertise in science policy to the CSP Board. How do you see science policy change affecting scholarly publishing over the next few years?

Science policy has two facets – science for policy and policy for science. “Science for policy” will likely not be a dominant concern for CSP, but current issues in “policy for science” will inevitably impinge on Board discussions and future directions. Among the diverse issues that spring to mind (and with which CSP is clearly engaged) are:
  • Evolution in the nature of research – in particular inter-disciplinarity and what is sometimes called Mode 2 research – research in the context of application, both of which impinge on how one defines dissemination and also how one manages quality assessment/merit review
  • Open access – both Canadian (e.g. the TC3+ policy) and international policies and trends – a huge pre-occupation
  • Data policies, including requirements for data management, open data – and how these interface with primary publication 
  • Peer review – e.g. the recent discussions in Science and Nature on double blind peer review
  • Integrity in science and science dissemination 
  • Evolution of the scientific publishing industry world wide and the niche that specialized      
  • Bibliometrics, altmetrics – do we measure what we value or simply value what we measure? 
  • The role of standards in research data and research dissemination … 
  • Technology and social media 
  • The evolution of research libraries and the role of research librarians ... what is their interface with CSP?  
  • The potential role of new technologies, tools and knowledge products in dissemination of research output, including reaching beyond the research audience to the lay public   

I spend a fair bit of time reading the literature on these issues, but not necessarily with specific applications in mind; CSP will be a useful way of focusing my attention on what matters in the scientific publication world.   

Q: CSP, through its journals and other “knowledge-sharing” activities, aims to serve Canadian research communities. How do you think CSP can better strive to meet this goal?

Give me at least a year of experience on the Board before I tackle this question! 

Last Q: How did you escape the clutches of Ottawa and find a paradise in Salt Spring Island?

In the mid 1980s, my husband who was brought up in BC was getting increasingly unhappy with Ottawa winters (too cold and icy) and Ottawa summers (too hot and humid) but that is where our professional careers were. I suggested that on one of our bi-annual trips to BC, we look for land that we could keep as a place to build a retirement home – what I called a “patch of blue sky” on the horizon. In 1988, on our very first day ever on Salt Spring Island, we bought 10 acres of land with a rocky, virtually inaccessible building site set high on a ridge. Fast forward to 2005, we start building with an architecture firm called “Blue Sky Architecture” (Yes, really!). In the Fall 2006, my husband Robin headed out, fully retired and in Spring 2007 I freed myself from the "clutches" of Ottawa and “rewired” here in what is truly a small piece of paradise. 

Salt Spring View
A Salt Spring Island view. 

Filed Under: NRC Research Press Meet the Board Science Careers Women in Science

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