Molly Shoichet

University of Toronto researcher and Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering member Molly Shoichet has become the first Chief Science Officer to the Ontario government, a position intended to map out the province’s research agenda, raise its profile within the international scientific community, and contribute to the development of an innovation-based economy.

Shoichet, who is a professor in U of T’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, brings a wide range of publications and honours to the job. In addition to publishing more than 500 papers, abstracts, and patents, she has the unique distinction of belonging to the Royal Society of Canada, Canadian Academy of Engineering, and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. She has also won numerous awards, including the 2017 Killam Prize in Engineering, the 2015 L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science, and the 2013 Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

She was a featured speaker for the Canadian Society for Chemistry’s conference at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this past June. In a session called “This Molecular World” Shoichet spoke about the prospect of stopping and reversing disease processes through regenerative medicine, a theme that has been the centrepiece of much of her research over the past 20 years. As director of the university’s Institute for Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, she has explored topics such as polymers for drug delivery and agents to promote healing or regrowth when damage occurs to complex physiological systems like the spinal cord. Shoichet has undertaken efforts to commercialize such work, becoming the president and founding scientist of Toronto-based MatRegen Corp., whose proprietary technology can produce novel structures to assist in the regeneration of heart and nerve tissue.

The provincial government has defined the role of Chief Scientist as part of a $650-million five-year plan called the Business Growth Initiative, which is aimed at growing Ontario’s economy and creating jobs through innovation. Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the creation of the post in June 2016 and made it part of the official mandate for the Minister of Research, Innovation and Science. Following more than 30 in-person meetings and almost 200 on-line submissions, the province subsequently retained the executive recruitment firm Four Corners Group to complete the search for candidates who qualified as communicators, thought leaders, strategic thinkers, influencers, and networkers.

In her capacity as Chief Scientist, Shoichet will serve as a high level advisor to the government on science-based policy matters, such as garnering support for research and innovation projects. She is expected to promote Ontario as a major research venue, within Canada as well as globally, with the aim of attracting talent to the province. These efforts have been cast as part of the larger groundwork for new jobs based on research and innovation, which will be shaped by a science strategy guiding support for universities and various research institutes.

Shoichet joins two other government science advisors within Canada: Quebec’s Chief Scientist Remi Quirion, who was appointed in 2011, and Mona Nemer, who became the federal government’s Chief Science Advisor earlier this fall. They make up a growing community of such advisors to governments at all levels around the world that want to inform their policy-making efforts with the perspective of researchers across a range of disciplines.