Checking in with our inaugural Associate Dean Research, Dr. Laura Cowen

Alf Wilson, Faculty of Science

Associate Dean Research, Dr. Laura Cowen

University of Victoria’s Faculty of Science is pleased to introduce our inaugural Associate Dean Research (ADR), Associate Professor Laura Cowen.

Q. Tell us a little about yourself.

I have a biology and statistics background. As an undergrad, I tried all of the sciences and became fascinated with biology and ecological questions. I spent several years doing remote seabird research; living within seabird colonies for months at a time.  I wanted to figure out how best to tell the seabird’s stories from the data I was collecting. So, I switched fields and did a Masters of Mathematics in Biostatistics at Waterloo and a Doctorate in Statistics at Simon Fraser.

I know the struggles of undertaking field research and developing quantitative methods. I would love to return to the field and collect my own data one day – maybe with my kids once they’re older!

Q. How did you come to be working at UVic and now ADR?

I started at UVic in 2005, as assistant professor, fresh from defending my PhD. Over my time here I’ve conducted research with other departments, faculties and beyond. I’ve had the fortune of working with researchers in biochemistry, computer science, geography, anthropology, Island Health, and more. I’m a serial collaborator!

In 2019 I joined the Senate and participated in the broader scope of university operations. I was also appointed as Math and Stats Associate Chair. I enjoy the problems I can solve and difference I can make – how I can help – from an administrative position.

When I saw that Science was creating a new ADR position, obviously I had a lot of ideas about how I could support research and increase grant success. But I also hoped I could bring some diversity to the Dean’s office, both as a woman and academically – they’re all chemists!

Q. What have you been able to accomplish so far as ADR?

I have chaired appointment committees that have put three new directors in place: ARC (Astronomy Research Centre), VISPA (Victoria Subatomic Physics and Accelerator Research Centre) and FORB (Centre for Forest Biology).

I’m working with faculty members to improve our internal NSERC nomination process and boost success rates across the faculty – to increase UVic’s total number of NSERC scholarships.

Graduate students are a big part of my portfolio. I’m working with faculty members to improve our internal NSERC nomination process and boost success rates across the faculty – to increase UVic’s total number of NSERC scholarships. I have also hosted an Indigenous graduate student luncheon with our IRC [Indigenous Resurgence Coordinator], Lydia Toorenburgh.

With ADR being a new position for UVic Science, some of my early work is learning the landscape and making myself known within the faculty. I want the faculty members to understand that I am here to support their research efforts.

Equity, diversity and inclusion – EDI – has been brewing in academia for generations. I started our faculty EDI council as a means of sharing information between units and uncovering potential EDI issues at the faculty level. Our council is a fantastic mix of staff, students, our Associate Dean Academic, and our wonderful Indigenous Resurgence Coordinator. We are working to make UVic Science welcoming to – and safe for – individuals from underrepresented backgrounds.

Q. What are your aspirations for this position?

I want to build more relationships between units and other faculties, to facilitate research collaborations. Independent research can definitely be prosperous and I don’t want to diminish that. But I want to make it easier for our scientists to benefit from each other, increase our grant success rate, and make UVic Science even more welcoming. Sometimes this is as simple as an introduction, but I plan on organizing gatherings once pandemic restrictions relax.

The EDI council is initiating a faculty-wide survey, to get baseline data on diversity within faculty, students, and staff. We are onboarding indigenous student research scholarships and supporting units doing limited faculty hires of individuals from underrepresented backgrounds. We are supporting those remaining units as they establish their own EDI committees. In the near future, all units will have EDI committees addressing their specific issues. 

UVic does world-renowned earth and ocean science research. While we’ve earned that reputation, we also punch well above our weight for the quality of our research across all units.

I want to make sure the country – and the world – knows how much incredible research we do.

For more information on the EDI Council, or the work of Dr. Cowen, please contact us at: