SHERBROOKE, QC, June 19, 2014 /CNW Telbec/ - Marie-Pierre Dubeau is a 34 year old Ph.D. biologist, and also the owner of Le Petit Mas, an Eastern-Townships based garlic producer and distributor, and a family business she took over in 2013 with a thirst for… growth. But Marie-Pierre never studied to become an entrepreneur. She is much more at ease in a lab cultivating cellular lineage than making marketing strategies to sell garlic. Had she had access to AgroPhytoSciences, a new, unique graduate program created at the Université de Sherbrooke, she could have completed her studies with a wealth of helpful business knowledge to help her company thrive. AgroPhytoSciences will train a new generation of science-driven entrepreneurs, as efficient in the lab than on the fields of commercial plant production.
The new program was created with the financial support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), through a $1.64 M grant. About 80% of these funds will be used to directly support the student researchers in the form of scholarships. In total, around 155 students and postdoctoral interns will receive the AgroPhytoSciences training during the six years covered by the NSERC grant.
Competitiveness through R&D
With a 16 % share of the GDP, the industry of non-forest plant production is a major contributor to the Canadian economy. Inflows from 2011 exceeded 25 billion dollars and are showing constant growth. Just like Le Petit Mas, most Canadian plant production companies are small or medium-sized businesses. And most are aware that their competitiveness - and often their survival - greatly relies on their capacity to break new ground.
While the need for fundamental research remains huge, many of those small and medium-sized businesses lack true R&D experience. «Future workers must be prepared to take up challenges that we still do not fully grasp», explains Professor Carole Beaulieu, scientific coordinator of the new UdeS AgroPhytoSciences program. Indeed, the production context is in constant evolution, climate-wise and production-wise. «Consumers are increasingly sensible to the environmental aspects of food production, and asking for more wholesome products».
The AgroPhytoSciences program is based on the principle that future plant production professionals must be able to work in a multidisciplinary environment and acquire the entrepreneurial skills needed for new product development and marketing. «We need to develop our student's cross-curricular competencies to make their integration to their new workplace easier», explains Professor Serge Jandl, Dean of the Faculty of Science. «The program's research subjects were created with the support of a multidisciplinary group of world renowned researchers from Université de Sherbrooke, Université Laval, McGill and Université de Montréal. This will truly be a unique opportunity for our students».
Every AgroPhytoSciences student will either follow a 45-credit (M.A.) or 90-credit (Ph.D.) program in his or her own University. The program will also create a tailor-made path especially designed to meet the student's needs. Each will acquire professional skills on state-of-the-art technologies, as well as on biological sciences entrepreneurship, R&D management and international projects, among other options. Training will include a paid internship designed to ease the student's passage from the University to the professional workplace. The program is centered on four distinct research priorities: plant improvement and molecular biology; plant health and protection; production systems and environmental sciences; and also the socioeconomic aspects of plant production.
«While providing new tools for M.A. and Ph.D. students in a new, totally innovative way, the new AgroPhytoSciences program tears down the barriers that stand between Biological Sciences and other disciplines like Human Sciences and Management», explains Professor Jacques Beauvais, UdeS Vice-President, Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. «The collaborations and partnerships that will be established, especially with foreign researchers, will open up new scientific and professional opportunities rarely offered to students in comparable programs. We are confident that these new openings will multiply our graduates' innovation and business creation capacities, and that measurable results will soon be visible in Québec's plant production industry.»
Centre SÈVE : Québec's higher expertise center in plant science
Coordination of the new AgroPhytoSciences program is provided by the Centre SÈVE, a UdeS research hub gathering over 50 plant scientifics from universities, governments, institutions and the private sector. The Centre Sève's projects encompass all disciplines related to food production from plants, «green» or industrial. Its activities are also aimed at promoting Québec's agro-environmental expertise at the national and international levels.
The Centre SÈVE's pulling power comes from the renowned excellence of its researchers and from the access it provides to an exceptional, state-of-the-art research infrastructure that is mostly unique in Canada.
About the Université de Sherbrooke
With over 40,000 students following original programs based on groundbreaking teaching techniques and pedagogy, the Université de Sherbrooke lies at the center of one of Québec's three major research hubs. Recognized for its sense of innovation, the UdeS is a key partner of national and regional governments to promote social, cultural, and economic development. The UdeS stands out because of the significant growth in its research activities in recent years, its technology-transfer successes, and its open-innovation and entrepreneurial initiatives in collaboration with industry and social communities.
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SOURCE: Université de Sherbrooke
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