The Faculty of Science has released its Academic Plan, which maps out the changes and improvements that will be made by the faculty from 2014 to 2019.

Five major initiatives for the Faculty of Science have been outlined in the report: improving undergraduate experience, reinvigorating and creating new graduate programs, focusing on research excellence, supporting faculty, and managing resources.

The first of the initiatives will improve undergraduate experience by establishing a new academic unit called interdisciplinary sciences that would house life sciences, medical radiation sciences, integrated science, and Science Career and Cooperative Education.

The interdisciplinary unit will be created as a result of many factors, especially the need for an academic home for life sciences students, who do not currently have their own department.

“We want to create a department of interdisciplinary science that would house the Life Science program,” said Robert Baker, Dean of Science. “There would be actual faculty appointed to it […] but still we would have a lot of contributions from other departments in teaching that program as well.”

The reorganization of the life sciences program into its own academic unit will also help with allocating resources to the program.

“Right now the director has to come to me, and come to various chairs to get enough resources to offer the [life sciences] program and that’s not the appropriate way to run a program,” said Baker.

The life science program, under the direction of the interdisciplinary unit, will see some changes in the next five years. A review of the program conducted in 2012 found that class sizes were too large, courses overlapped, and students run the risk of graduating with an unfocused degree. To address these concerns, a working group will be established to look into creating specific streams of study, such as health policy or global health.

The Faculty also plans to create more research positions for undergraduate students, starting in second year. This could be achieved by encouraging professors to hire undergraduate students for their labs or by creating shared undergraduate research spaces for individual and group projects.

Additional ways to improve the undergraduate experience include lowering the entrance average to Honours programs to a cumulative average of five, hiring more undergraduate teaching assistants, and teaching stress management to first year students through Science 1A03.

For graduate students, the Faculty of Science plans to establish three professional Master’s programs by July 2015 in areas such as environmental monitoring, genomic analysis, and ergonomics.

Along with improving undergraduate and graduate programs, the Faculty of Science looks to improve research excellence through their Strategic Research Plan.

“The SRP makes it clear that to succeed during economically challenging times, the Faculty must focus its efforts to support leading edge research while managing expenditures prudently,” the report said.

As a result, science research will now be focused on four main areas: biological systems and health, environmental science, fundamental exploration, and materials discovery and characterization.

The report also highlighted the need to hire and maintain quality faculty members.

“Demographic analysis indicates that there may be many retirements in the Faculty over the next several years, allowing us to plan for faculty renewal. However, financial forecasts indicate the Faculty may need to decrease our faculty complement over the next five years,” the report said.

Despite these financial restrictions, the Faculty of Science is looking to hire more diverse candidates.

“Given the evidence that students benefit from being taught by role models with whom they identify, whether it be a woman professor or someone from a similar ethnic group, it is vital to the future of undergraduate and graduate teaching programs that the Faculty encourages the hiring of excellent candidates who reflect the diversity of our student population, particularly with the hiring of more female faculty members,” the report said.

The report also outlines the importance of both teaching and research excellence within the faculty, stating that all faculty must teach at least six units each year.

The last initiative examined is the management of resources. In particular, the lack of budget to fund incoming international students is addressed. Since international students make up only four percent of the science undergraduate population, the Faculty of Science must work to find new models of funding to support more international students.

With files from Rachel Katz

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