Ayelet Shachar is one of 21 new Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada (photo by John Guatto)

Record number of Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada for U of T

Continuing in the tradition of Frederick Banting and Charles Best, co-discoverers of insulin in the 1920s, U of T researchers continue to have an impact on everyday lives. This year their number includes Professor Emeritus Ian Hacking and Professor Peter St George-Hyslop – both recipients of prestigious international awards – and 29 U of T scholars who have been recognized by the Royal Society of Canada (RSC).

Hacking, one of the world’s foremost philosophers, was awarded a 2014 Balzan Prize for scholarly and scientific research (find out more information about the award here). St George-Hyslop, a pioneer in brain research, received a 2014 Dan David Prize for research in the sciences, arts and humanities (see the story about the Dan David Prize here). 

The 29 U of T researchers recognized by the Royal Society of Canada – the largest group from any institution in Canada – include 21 RSC Fellows (the most that U of T has ever seen inducted in a single year), five award recipients and three members of the RSC's new College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. 

The RSC’s mission is to recognize scholarly, research and artistic excellence, to advise governments and organizations, and to promote a culture of knowledge and innovation in Canada. Membership in the RSC, which comprises the Academies of Arts, Humanities, and Sciences of Canada, is one of the highest honours a researcher can achieve, and the 29 new Fellows join the nation’s most distinguished scholars, artists and scientists in an organization that dates back to 1882.

Among the group of new RSC Fellows is Faculty of Law Professor Ayelet Shachar, who was cited by the RSC for her "innovative scholarship on citizenship and multiculturalism," which has "inspired a whole new generation of thinking about how best to mitigate tensions between religious diversity and gender equality, as well as between citizenship and global justice."

"It’s a tremendous honour," says Shachar about her election. "When I heard the news, I was at a conference in Florence. I had completed one panel on a book of mine, and I was rushing to another panel. It was a piece of good news that allowed me to step back and appreciate the privilege of doing the work I love best and of being part of a community that appreciates new ideas."

Shachar began her career by challenging the then-dominant view that women within minority religious communities had to choose between their culture and their rights. "I thought that framing it as an either-or choice was misguided and unfairly restricted women’s choices. I tried to offer an alternative, a system that I call joint governance."

Building on her critical exploration of birthright membership regimes – an inquiry that has led to a series of influential articles and matured into her ground-breaking book, The Birthright Lottery; today she is working on a book called Olympic Citizenship, which examines how countries sometimes grant access and citizenship to extraordinarily talented people such as athletes or scientists.

"Who gets the red carpet treatment, and on what basis?" she asks. "I’m trying to get a sense of where citizenship stands in the 21st century and what it perhaps should stand for."

She remains committed to doing work that is both academically rigorous and policy-relevant – her work has been cited by the Supreme Court of Canada and the Archbishop of Canterbury, among others.

"When I started my career," she says, "I was given advice to play it safe, told that I shouldn’t take too many risks. I listened to that advice, but I partly resisted it. If I had to give advice to people starting out today, I would say you don’t just have to stay in the ivory tower. It can be wonderful to engage in some translation of theoretical ideas into practical plans and to engage with local and global problems.

"For me, because I took a somewhat riskier track, it was particularly rewarding to be recognized by an eminent institution like the Royal Society of Canada."

"Fellowship in the Royal Society is one of the greatest honours bestowed on researchers in our country," says Professor Peter Lewis, U of T’s interim vice-president, research and innovation. "My congratulations to all the winners. The fact that there are so many of them is a testament to the consistent leadership and excellence shown by the U of T research community."

U of T’s new RSC Fellows, who will be formally inducted at a ceremony in Ottawa on November 22, are:

(To read the RSC’s citations for these Fellows, visit www.research.utoronto.ca/2014RSCFellows)

  • Craig Boutilier, Department of Computer Science
  • Konrad Eisenbichler, Department of Italian Studies & Department for the Study of Religion
  • Michael G. Fehlings, Department of Surgery & Toronto Western Hospital
  • Eugene Fiume, Department of Computer Science
  • Jane Gaskell, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
  • Ran Hirschl, Department of Political Science & Faculty of Law
  • Adèle Hurley, Munk School of Global Affairs
  • Chelva Kanaganayakam, Department of English, Department for the Study of Religion & Munk School for Global Affairs
  • John Kloppenborg, Department for the Study of Religion
  • Lynne Magnusson, Department of English
  • Philip Marsden, Department of Medicine & St. Michael’s Hospital
  • Robert McCann, Department of Mathematics
  • Andras Nagy, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology & Mount Sinai Hospital
  • David Rayside, Department of Political Science
  • Edward H. Sargent, Edward S. Rogers Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Ayelet Shachar, Faculty of Law & Department of Political Science
  • Judith Teichman, Department of Political Science, U of T Scarborough
  • Ulrich Tepass, Department of Cell & Systems Biology
  • Nicholas Terpstra, Department of History
  • Lynne Viola, Department of History
  • Peter Zandstra, Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering 

The RSC also recognized five of U of T's top researchers with major awards for their excellence and innovation. (Read more about the honours for Spencer Barrett, Sylvia Bashevkin, Markus Dubber, Michael (Mike) Evans, Bálint Virág.)

And the RSC announced that three U of T researchers are among the first cohort of its prestigious new institution, the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, created to recognize the emerging generation of Canadian intellectual leadership.(Read more about the college and the work of Amira Mittermaier, Milica Radisic, and E. Natalie Rothman.)

For more information about research at U of T and its impact on everyday lives, click here.

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