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  • Suwen Chen

Lianne Lefsrud, University of Alberta, Assistant Professor


"I work with different collaborators in these different areas, and it allows me to really leverage my specific expertise with regards to theory and method into these different areas to have some cool impacts."


Lianne Lefsrud is an Assistant Professor in Engineering Safety and Risk Management at the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, University of Alberta. She was recently awarded tenure and will become an Associate Professor in July 2021. Lianne sees her research, teaching, and policy advising as creating a virtuous circle, whereby each enhances the other, magnifying her impact in multiple areas.


Engaged research and teaching combining rigor and relevance

Lianne works closely with corporations, and they often approach her to solve practical problems. Therefore, she focuses on questions they care about, "…the research questions and methods have to be relevant and rigorous, and the research products have to be translated." Lianne elaborates, "the products include not only academic publications but also reports or presentations to the company's board. "


Lianne's teaching is primarily in Engineering, and her courses are designed for engineers who seek to sharpen their technical problem-solving, decision-making, and implementation skills in an operating environment. These programs transform engineers into business leaders who understand the full scope of an issue, the impact of their decisions, and the value of social, environmental, and corporate responsibility. "My students are going to be the next managers and CEOs. Some of the recommendations from my papers and teaching will be adopted by them in their future careers."


All publications lead to impact

Lianne strives to communicate her research in high-impact, peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary journals and in public presentations, interviews, and policy and industry reports to reach the broadest possible audiences of decision-makers and users (see list of Lianne's publications here). Technical reports such as those for the Railway Association of Canada and Transport Canada allow her to quickly translate knowledge and research findings to regulators and policymakers, but later also publish in peer-reviewed outlets.


Advice for early-career scholars

Lianne shares the following advice for junior scholars and Ph.D. students who want to have an impact and make further progress in academia:


- Visualize your research impact

Lianne is a strong advocate for visualization. Given her interdisciplinary research, Lianne collaborates with researchers around the globe and across disciplines. She shared the figure below, demonstrating her current interdisciplinary research collaborations. This was appreciated by the evaluation committee and helped her make her recent tenure case. Another way of visualization, Lianne suggests, is a "network analysis of who your co-authors are in multiple disciplines. That would be an effective way of demonstrating interconnectedness."


- Find your uniqueness and turn a penalty into an asset

Lianne suggests finding something that you care really deeply about, something that really motivates you, and something in which you have a unique perspective, unique talents, and a unique data set. These are all powerful ways to generate a unique contribution. She provided an example, "in the tragic Beirut explosion this summer, my Lebanese students had data that was not available anywhere else and was only in Lebanese. Then they were able to say something that was unique. So rather than think being Lebanese is a detriment…you think about how it's an asset and how do you take that and turn it into an advantage."


- Create your 'doctor family'

Finally, Lianne suggests creating a community of collaborators as your 'doctor family’. Lianne explains, "Ideally, the 'doctor father or mother' is your supervisor if you've got that relationship with him or her. But you don't just need a doctor father or mother, you also need your aunts, uncles, and cousins - you need other people in your family that will help you develop your papers, your ideas and also collaborate on all these different topics." This 'doctor family' also provides support through the dissertation process and beyond, "…this diversity of expertise also creates a network of support, intellectually and emotionally, which is very useful when you're on the job market."


Lianne concluded the interview with an encouraging note: "The nice thing about being an academic is that we get to choose who our colleagues are. What other jobs allow you to get paid to do things you like with people you like?"


Inspired by Lianne's story and want to share yours with the Impact Scholar Community? If you would like to be featured, write to Suwen (Suwen.chen@ed.ac.uk).


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