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Q&A with Dr. Guillaume Bourque, Outgoing Interim Researcher Council Chair

Nizar and Guillaume

I recently spoke with Dr. Guillaume Bourque, a Professor in the Department of Human Genetics and the Director of Bioinformatics at the McGill Genome Centre, McGill University, about his experience as Interim Chair of NDRIO’s Researcher Council. With his term coming to an end, we send our heartfelt thanks to Dr. Bourque for his instrumental contributions in growing NDRIO and advancing our mission to the benefit of all Canadian researchers.

1. Guillaume, before we dive into your experience at NDRIO, please tell us about your research.

I’m a Canada Research Chair in Computational Genomics and Medicine. My group collaborates with many scientists and clinicians across the country to use genetic information to try to better understand and treat diseases from cancer to COVID-19. For example, working with public health agencies, we’ve been busy sequencing and characterizing the SARS-Cov2 viruses spreading in Québec and in Canada.

2. How does Digital Research Infrastructure help you and your colleagues advance this important research?

Genomic data analyses require significant storage and compute resources. Sequencing a single human genome generates files in the order of 200 GB. Imagine working on a project that involves sequencing 1,000 or 10,000 human genomes. Over the years, we’ve been working very closely with Calcul Québec and Compute Canada to make sure the tools we use are scalable and can be deployed effectively on their infrastructure.

3. Guillaume, you have had a lot of titles from Applicant Board member, Researcher Advisory Group member and ultimately Interim Chair of the Researcher Council. What motivated you to keep engaged? That is, why did you feel such a tremendous involvement of energy and time was warranted?

Over the years, Compute Canada has been an amazing resource for my research group, but there remained challenges. When I saw that a new framework was being developed for Digital Research Infrastructure in the country, and that it would expand from Advanced Research Computing to also include Research Software and Data Management, I knew it was a great start. I wanted to help.

4. What were some of the high points and challenges in your NDRIO journey?

When this all started, I was the only researcher representative on most committees. I felt tremendous pressure to try to represent the Canadian research enterprise. Now the that the Researcher Council is in place, and with a strong voice to help guide NDRIO, I know we are in good hands.

5. On behalf of NDRIO and our Board, I must express how sad we are that your term has concluded this month. That said, we are happy that Dr. Randall Sobie has stepped into the role. What advice do you have for Dr. Sobie as your successor?

The biggest challenge of the Researcher Council will be to find a way to represent and speak for all researchers across Canada. There’s such diversity of institutions, disciplines and needs, but if Dr. Sobie as Chair, with the support of the Council members, can find a way to distill and help prioritize requirements, I’m sure NDRIO will listen and help implement solutions.

6. As the inaugural CEO, I have had the sincere pleasure of getting to know you and hold you in high regard. You have earned my respect and admiration. Besides “Don’t screw it up Nizar!” what advice do you have for me to help achieve the vision you have for NDRIO?

I think the challenge in your position will be to earn and keep the trust of researchers. Resources available to NDRIO are limited, and the needs of researchers will always exceed what is available. The key will be to develop a system with everyone’s buy-in to provide access to all, but also prioritize important projects in a fair way.

7. In conclusion, is there anything you wish to add that perhaps we did not cover?

One thing I would like to highlight is how great my experience with NDRIO has been. I’ve been part of many projects and committees over the years, but this one was special. It was really purpose-driven and everyone I’ve had a chance to meet has been an absolute pleasure to work with. I think NDRIO is off to a great start and I look forward to seeing how things will continue to develop!