Message from the Director

What is a research institute? Is it the place, the facilities, the backdrop, the environment, the culture, the people? Is it those who plan and organize, those who visit, those who speak, those who listen, those who work silently in the wings so that things run without a hitch? Like the fabled elephant felt only by touch, an institute is probably all of these, and much more ...

First and foremost, an institute is a meeting place of minds, a distraction-free opportunity to learn about new frontiers of research and innovation. It is a place to sit across from a long-term collaborator who you normally do not see face-to-face because they live so far away. It is a place to think, to brainstorm and anticipate new discoveries around the corner. It is a place for forging exciting partnerships, make serendipitous connections. This is where germinating ideas take root and fledgling projects take wing.

As our research landscape continues to evolve in response to emerging regional, national and global needs, institutes like BIRS have the ability, and the responsibility, to take on more roles, as messengers of positive change. They can raise public awareness about new developments and challenges, in science, in education, in topics that transcend disciplinary boundaries, in societal discourses of import. They can build bridges between communities, bring a multiplicity of perspectives to the table, facilitate conversations among stakeholders working towards a common cause, showcase role models who lead by example.

Institutes like BIRS represent the power of collaboration – collaboration between governments, between funding agencies and most importantly between scholars of all specializations and from all across the world. Nowhere has the power of collaboration been more apparent than during the COVID- 19 crisis, where people of every calling contributed in small and large ways to save lives and keep the hope for normalcy alive in our minds. We need this power of collaboration now more than ever to understand and solve the big problems that face us.

As we come out of the pandemic and re-assess our operating principles, what would we like BIRS to be? We want to continue doing what we do best, welcoming all scientific voices to our multiple locations, creating safe places for mentorship and learning where everyone feels acknowledged and empowered to contribute to the repository of human knowledge. We want to support self-sustaining networks and programs that embrace diversity in all its forms, not merely limited to race, gender, ethnicity or geography.

But we can do more. We want to contribute meaningfully to the community where we belong, taking pride in its unique heritage and innovative strengths. As we bring world-class talent to Banff and Alberta and showcase their achievements to Western Canada and the Prairie Region, we want to reach out to Indigenous leaders, K-12 and college students, postdocs, early career researchers from all communities in meaningful ways, serve them adequately by meeting their needs. We also want to connect with people near and far, those who visit our campus, and those who, whether due to the pandemic or due to reasons of their own, cannot travel to BIRS. We want to share the experience and benefits of every BIRS event with as wide an audience as possible, through live-streaming, videorecording and hybrid events.

BIRS in Banff is located on the campus of Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Treaty 7 territory, the traditional lands of the Stoney Nakoda Nations of Wesley, Chiniki, and Bearspaw; three Nations of the Blackfoot Confederacy: the Pikani, Kainai and Siksika; and the Tsuut'ina First Nations, and shared with the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region III. Before the signing of Treaty 7, and prior to the establishment of provincial boundaries, this region was also used by the Ktunaxa and the Maskwacis people. For generations, these nations have helped steward this land, honoured and cherished this place as a centre for rejuvenation, wisdom and healing. Following in their footsteps, we welcome you to join us, in a celebration of creativity, collaboration and learning.

Malabika Pramanik
Scientific Director, Banff International Research Station