"These Signature Areas will lift our whole institution to another level of research and scholarly achievement."

- Peter MacKinnon, Executive Sponsor 

What Are Signature Areas?

Signature Areas are areas of research and scholarship that bring the University of Saskatchewan (USask) distinct recognition and help to position USask among the most distinguished universities in Canada and among the very best in the world.

These distinctive areas are to be based on our output and achievement, enabled by our research capacity, investments, history and sense of place.

Through the Areas of Pre-eminence Commitment Working Group, USask undertook an extensive campus-wide consultative process to identify what it is that distinguishes our collective research from that at other universities.

Identifying Signature Areas

A consensus emerged around a list of distinctive research areas that will bring USask high-profile recognition and position us among the most distinguished universities in Canada and among the very best in the world.

Why Identify Signature Areas?

  • Identification of Signature Areas will help USask achieve sustainable and pre-eminent research impact, going well beyond a single individual or unit to advance the university as a whole.
  • These Signature Areas of research, scholarly and artistic activity are critical to advancing USask's national and international profile, recruiting top students and faculty, and accessing resources in a post- secondary landscape that has become increasingly competitive.
  • They will help USask take its place as one of the most distinguished universities in Canada and among the best in the world.

Criteria for Signature Areas

These distinctive areas are to be based on output and achievement, enabled by research capacity, investments, history and a sense of place.

In the fall of 2009, the Areas of Pre-Eminence Working Group identified the following more specific selection criteria:

  • Relevance to issues of national and international priority
  • Impact for the benefit/betterment of society
  • Contributions to innovation
  • Strategic significance to Canada and the world
  • Ability to attract resources (due to public/private interest or relevance)
  • Prominent Reputation
    • International achievement
    • National and international awards and recognition
    • People of international stature
    • Publications, citations, performances, exhibitions, etc.
    • Direct economic and societal impact
    • Ability to attract resources
    • Success in attracting graduate students and post-docs
    • Invited presentations at national and international conferences
    • Contributions to service facilities, community organizations, public debate
    • National and international collaboration on creative activity/performance
    • Participation on national review committees, editorial boards, etc.
    • Public profile e.g., major media coverage
  • Significant (broad, deep, inclusive) collaboration and engagement
    • Cross-unit and cross-college critical mass
    • Use of local/national facilities, infrastructure and resources
    • International partnerships
    • Government agency/industry/community linkages

Development Process

  • 2004:
    • In January of 2004, the University of Saskatchewan made a commitment to enhance its research, scholarly and artistic culture through the approval of the Foundational Document on Research, Scholarly and Artistic Work.
    • This document articulated a plan to build on current and emerging USask strengths and traditions to increase research intensity. This foundational document stated a commitment in future years to "identify areas of pre-eminence, areas of emerging strength, and targeted areas in which investments and development could occur to help increase research intensiveness at the University of Saskatchewan, while working to ensure the entire academic community continues to receive the benefits of a research-intensive university environment."
    • This process provided the USask community with an exciting opportunity, not only to describe its research, scholarly and artistic work landscape, but to build upon synergies between seemingly disparate areas and to celebrate outstanding achievements.
  • 2004-2007:
    • The Office of the Vice-President Research, the Research, Scholarly and Artistic Work Committee of Council, the Associate Deans Research Forum, the Planning and Priorities Committee of Council, and the Deans' Council worked together to develop a strategy for identifying areas of strength and of promise. An Areas of Research, Scholarly and Artistic Work Advisory Committee was created which undertook an extensive cross-campus consultation.
  • 2007:
    • This consultative process culminated in 'Extending Horizons: U of S Research, Scholarly and Artistic Landscape', a document that was presented at University Council on April 19, 2007.
      • This document was a mirror for how the University of Saskatchewan research community saw itself reflected in the many research, scholarly and artistic endeavors across the campus - from the arts to the synchrotron sciences.
      • The thematic areas - Indigenous Peoples; Culture and Society; Human and Animal Health; Environment, Resources and Sustainability; and Frontiers of Science and Technology - were expressed through researcher profiles in the 'Engaging Minds' video series and in two USask publications: 'Explore' research magazine and 'Making Waves' research brochure.
  • 2009-2010:
    • The Areas of Pre-eminence Commitment initiative put the spotlight on research that USask was particularly known for, going well beyond a single individual or unit to identify strategic themes that would advance the university as a whole.
    • An environmental scan of Canadian medical-doctoral universities was conducted to determine how many had identified areas of strategic priority/strength/prominence and what these are
    • The criteria and process for identifying USask Signature Areas was developed.
    • A series of workshops and presentations were held across campus over the 2009-2010 academic year. Groups consulted included:
      • Deans' Council (September 29, 2009)
      • Centres/Canada Research Chairs Forum (October 15, 2009)
      • Research, Scholarly and Artistic Work Committee (October 16, 2009)
      • Open Faculty Workshops (October 19-20, 2009)
      • Associate Deans Research Forum (October 22, 2009)
      • Department Head Forum Program (October 22, 2009)
      • USSU/GSA Executives (November 5, 2009)

      The following questions were asked of each group:

      • What are the areas that would bring our university distinct recognition and distinguish us as leaders in Canada and among the very best in the world?
      • How will these make the university stand out based on our research output and achievement, capacity, investments, history, and sense of place?

    • The responses were collected and analyzed by the Areas of Pre-Eminence Commitment Working Group. 
    • As seven broad themes emerged, the Working Group developed several options to articulate these themes and to express their distinctiveness and impact. 
    • On March 23, 2010, a workshop to which all attendees at previous consultation sessions and all faculty across campus were invited to was led by Executive Sponsor Peter MacKinnon and Commitment Leader Karen Chad. The workshop attendees provided feedback on the refinement of the themes. 
    • A draft list of USask's Signature Areas was developed based on the findings from this campus-wide consultation.
    • In 2011, the first six Signature Areas were named: Agriculture, Energy and Mineral Resources for a Sustainable Future, Indigenous Peoples, One Health, Synchrotron Sciences, and Water
  • 2021-2022:
    • In 2021, hundreds of USask community members took part in a Signature Areas Renewal process (read more below). An advisory circle and steering committee guided the process, led by the Vice-President Research and the Provost.
    • In 2022, three new Signature Areas emerged from this process: Communities and Sustainability, Health and Wellness, and Quantum Innovation.

Renewing the Signature Areas

2021-22 Signature Areas Renewal Process

More than 600 USask academy members were part of a consultation process that led to renewing USask's existing six Signature Areas.  An impressive total of 16 pitches were presented. From the arts to social sciences to hard science, the wide variety of disciplines found in the USask research ecosystem were represented.

There were no unsuccessful proposals. Although not all could be selected to become Signature Areas, all the presentations provided opportunities for improvement and growth for USask’s research ecosystem.

In February 2022, USask announced three new Signature Areas of Research: Communities and Sustainability, Health and Wellness, and Quantum Innovation.

USask’s six pre-existing Signature Areas — Agriculture, Energy and Mineral Resources for a Sustainable Future, Indigenous Peoples, Synchrotron Sciences, One Health and Water Security — were selected a decade ago after a campus-wide consultation process. These will remain, although Water Security and Energy and Mineral Resources will undergo updates based on pitches presented in the process. The other four areas will be reviewed in 2024.