New Dean on the uO block

Louis Barriault

The Faculty of Science has just appointed a new dean. Louis Barriault, who began his term on July 1st, is a chemistry doctoral student from the University of Sherbrooke of 1997 and has been teaching at the Department of Chemistry at the University of Ottawa since 1999. Among his experiences in management positions, he has been: Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Chemistry and Vice-Dean, Research, Faculty of Science. Most recently, he served as Associate Vice President Research (Interim) at the University of Ottawa. His research focuses on the development of gold-catalyzed transformations and photoresist reactions and their applications in the synthesis of complex bioactive natural products.

We wanted to know more about Dr. Barriault, who agreed to share a few words.

When did your interest in science begin? Did you have a role model or a light bulb moment?

I became interested in science early on in high school. My parents gave me a chemistry set and a microscope (I had asked for a telescope!). It was love at first sight in my first general chemistry course at Cégep de Sainte-Foy (in Quebec City). The teacher was fantastic and inspiring. He showed me how important chemistry is in improving people’s quality of life. Sadly, the teacher passed away at the end of the semester.

Tell us about your career after earning your science degree.

After completing my doctorate in organic chemistry (1993 to 1997, Université de Sherbrooke), I received a research grant from the Quebec government to pursue postdoctoral studies at Ohio State University (Columbus, Ohio). During my postdoctoral fellowship (1997 to 1999), I performed a total synthesis of Polycavernoside A, a marine toxin with a complex structure. This molecule is produced by an alga that is involved in red tides. In 1999, I started my academic career as an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at uOttawa, where I developed an innovative research program in organic synthesis and in catalysis with gold complexes. During my career, I have trained six postdoctoral fellows, 15 PhD students, 19 MSc students and more than 65 undergraduate students. I have taught courses in organic chemistry, spectroscopy, medical chemistry, organic synthesis and catalysis to more than 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students. From 2006 to 2016, I was the first University Research Chair in organic synthesis in the Faculty of Science. In 2011, I was the director of graduate studies for the Department of Chemistry and then, in 2014, the vice-dean, research. Before becoming the dean of science, I was the interim associate vice-president of research.

How did these experiences prepare you for becoming the dean of science faculty?

First, those leadership positions helped me to fully understand how the Faculty of Science (and the University) operates, its ecosystem, the professors and the support staff. What’s more, they helped me to network strategically inside and outside of the University. Finally, they helped me to properly position the Faculty of Science within the University and to identify the Faculty’s needs.

What lessons have you learned along the way?

To be strategic, to identify medium- and long-term goals and to learn to make compromises. To not be afraid to change plans and review decisions.

Why do you want to become dean of the Faculty of Science?

  • To give students a one-of-a-kind research and learning experience
  • To create a positive and stimulating work environment for everyone
  • To shape the future of the Faculty of Science

What, in your opinion, is the role of a dean of faculty?

The role of a dean is first and foremost that of faculty manager. I think the dean has to develop a medium- and long-term vision, be fiscally responsible and be actively involved in fundraising campaigns. He or she also needs to create a positive work environment and provide all the tools necessary for the development of students, professors and support staff.

And how will you go about fulfilling this role?

  • Being approachable and communicating clearly and transparently with colleagues, support staff and students
  • Using strategic thinking and effectively managing risk
  • Delegating some tasks and working with others to reach a consensus on certain issues

What are your objectives and vision for the Faculty?

My vision for the Faculty of Science:

  • Be one of the top four faculties of science in the country
  • Develop new strategic partnerships
  • Teach students to become engaged citizens
  • Recruit internationally

My objectives for the Faculty of Science:

  • Develop new educational offerings with new entrepreneurship, managerial and science policy options for students
  • Offer more mentoring opportunities
  • Enrich the student experience by teaching through research
  • Recruit outstanding domestic and international students at the undergraduate and graduate levels
  • Promote bilingualism so that francophone students can graduate from the program in French
  • Increase student mobility
  • Foster research excellence
  • Reduce research costs
  • Support and encourage basic research and major funding initiatives

What are your immediate priorities as dean?

  • September, obviously!
  • Moving four departments (CHM, MAT, PHY, EES) and teaching and research laboratories into the new STEM building
  • Meeting all my Faculty of Science colleagues and the support staff
  • Developing a strategic hiring plan for the next three years
  • Meeting with the deans of other faculties to develop new partnerships between our faculties

How can we improve the student experience in 2018?

First off, I can proudly say that we have one of the university’s best undergraduate offices. Two years ago, the office won the University’s customer service excellence award. I think there are a number of ways to improve the student experience in the Faculty of Science, such as by giving our students new educational offerings, promoting teaching—teaching is as important as research—along with providing quality courses with content that reflects the latest trends in science and offering students more focused mentoring.

What distinguishes the Faculty of Science at the University of Ottawa from other Canadian universities, and what are the advantages of studying science at the University of Ottawa?

Clearly, what distinguishes us is bilingualism! Students have the opportunity to get first-rate scientific training in Canada’s two official languages. We have some of the best infrastructure and research centres in Canada, where students can undertake ambitious research projects. With the new STEM building, our students will now be able to develop their entrepreneurial spirit and acquire new transferable skills (soft skills) like leadership, communication, team building and so on.

What challenges do you see the scientific profession facing in the years to come, and how do you plan to prepare our students to overcome them?

With the advent of artificial intelligence and new disruptive technologies, the job market is changing rapidly, and we have to listen to employers. We need to adapt so that we can continue to offer cutting-edge scientific training while improving our students’ transferable skills. In short, you have to keep innovating in teaching and research.

Ottawa is well known for its lively cultural scene, theatre, music festivals and numerous outdoor leisure activities. Where are you most likely to be found?

Outside work, you’ll probably find me on country roads or underwater (in the summer)! In fact, I’m an avid motorcyclist and diver in Canada’s cold waters, as well as in warm waters around the globe. Otherwise, you’ll find me at home with my family, my dog and my chilli pepper plants.

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