Space designed for research success

The opening of D wing of the health sciences project next May will usher in an innovative approach to doing research at the University of Saskatchewan. The labs will be open concept and space will be occupied by research theme or cluster rather than by academic department, and that requires a whole new way of allocating the space. The objective is to support research success at the University of Saskatchewan.

By Colleen MacPherson

"This building is going to help with the university's research funding performance," said Brad Steeves, director of operations in the Council of Health Science Deans Office, "so we need a new way to occupy the building and increase our research success. What we're doing is similar to the model used at VIDO and in two labs at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine so it is relatively new to this campus."

According to the principles approved by the Council of Health Science Deans that set out how lab and office space is to be allocated, priority goes to those who have research grants "or who have the potential to be successful in obtaining grants," said Steeves. "We are going to give preference to some researchers but the university must ensure that the provincial government has confidence we're going the best we can with the money they've invested, and that our research engine is aligned with provincial strategies."

Researchers from primarily the Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy and Nutrition, and from the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency will occupy space in D wing.

Steeves said this approach to space allocation grew out of the basic design principles of the building, which focus on open labs to encourage collaboration among researchers as well as efficient use of equipment by eliminating duplication. Consultation with faculty and departments along with surveys of their space requirements also helped the council's research space working group to establish the allocation principles.

"What we didn't do in establishing the principles is plan this around academic departments," said Steeves. "Research done at the bench isn't as discipline specific any more and academic position doesn't always reflect where a researcher's interest lies." As a result, faculty from various departments may be sharing lab and office space.

It will be a major shift in university culture, he said, and the way people think about shared space.

"It's an incredible change that's happening but a capital project, as much as it is about construction, is also about people and we often underestimate what affect change has on people. It will take some time and it will take everybody to work a little differently, to think a little differently and to understand the big picture."

With the allocation principles in place, Steeves said an initial occupancy plan will be released in late May. It will identify which researchers will use which labs based on themes or clusters. "Those clusters of researchers are then going to have to sort themselves out, deciding among themselves what comes with them to the new space, what gets discarded and what the deficiencies are." Designation of office and support space will, as much as possible, take into consideration proximity to labs and to colleagues.

By August, Steeves expects a set of guidelines will be developed that address operational considerations, "basically how they manage the space – this bench is primarily mine, this bench is shared, this is how we deal with summer students. Each lab is going to create its own culture and the operational guidelines will help people make the space work."

Construction continues on E wing and Steeves said the allocation of that research space will also be completed using a set of principles that will be developed soon.

The opening of D wing is rushing up quickly and Steeves acknowledges that everyone involved will be challenged to adapt "but how we occupy a building is a small part of how we achieve success."