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Going steady

Dr. Barb Neis, Harris Centre formalize long and fruitful working relationship


By Janet Harron

A long and productive working relationship has been formalized.

Sociologist Dr. Barbara Neis has been officially named a senior research associate at Memorial’s Harris Centre.

Throughout her four-decade-long career, Dr. Neis focused on many different aspects of the Newfoundland fishery, including gender relations, occupational health, technological change, industrial restructuring, social movements and fisheries ecology.

A significant portion of that work has been done in partnership with the Harris Centre.

Throughout the past two decades, the Harris Centre and Dr. Neis collaborated on major projects, such as Forecast NL (2020);  Asking the Big Questions: Reflections on a Sustainable, Post Oil-dependent N.L. (2017); Fisheries Allocation Policies and Regional Development: Successes from the N.L. Shrimp Fishery (2013); On the Move Partnership (2012); and the Community-University Research for Recovery Alliance (2007-14).

Significant academic contributions

So what is a senior research associate?

Both senior research and research associates at the Harris Centre are individuals who provide significant academic contributions to specific Harris Centre research activities and contribute to building the Harris Centre brand through their work in regional policy and development.

Harris Centre research associates are recommended for appointment by the Harris Centre Nomination Committee — an internal committee chaired by advisory board member, Dr. Evan Simpson — and officially appointed by the director of the Harris Centre for a renewable term of three years.

“We are dealing with issues that are marginal to the concerns of other researchers in the country.” — Dr. Barb Neis

Currently, Dr. Neis is partnering with Dr. Charles Mather on a study focused on the recruitment and retention of seafood processing workers.

The Regional Analytics Laboratory (RAnLab), is providing quantitative data for the project with a focus on Newfoundland and Labrador and Atlantic Canada. The RAnLab, which is loosely associated with the Harris Centre, was established in 2010.

“We are asking what is the overall nature of the problem, what are the regional variations and diversity, where exactly are the labour shortages and how much reliance is on temporary foreign workers in different regions,” said Dr. Neis, who is also the current president of the Royal Society of Canada’s Academy of Social Sciences.

Dr. Neis believes it is critically important to work with the Harris Centre on complex issues and problems that are not the responsibility of any one organization to address.

“It’s great to have a range of different mechanisms for outreach, in order to talk about the research and get diverse perspectives on what is happening,” she said. “It’s particularly critical here in this province with only one university. We are dealing with issues that are marginal to the concerns of other researchers in the country — nobody else really cares that much.”

Addressing the knowledge gap

Maritime health and safety is one such example.

According to Dr. Neis, the issue is widely considered one of the most dangerous sectors globally, but is significantly understudied.

Canada has no dedicated institute for health and safety research, which is problematic as industrial environments are spread across the country and resources are needed to help communities understand both the uniqueness and similarities of their issues.

Overused and unchanging bromides such as “seasonal unemployment,” “aging population” and “well-paying jobs” are part of an overly simplistic explanation of the situation that doesn’t engage with the research.

According to Dr. Neis, this is when ideology and rhetoric can take hold in the public’s understanding.

She cites Forecast NL as an example of how the Harris Centre plays a role in addressing this gap.

“In this particular province, there was and continues to be a serious problem. We have people who are deeply concerned by climate change and also people who are very supportive of the oil and gas industry. There was a need to co-ordinate an open forum for dialogue and conversation. To their credit, the Harris Centre took this on.”

When it is unclear whose job it is to tackle such issues and with an increasing need for community engagement, a researcher, even one as respected and experienced as Dr. Neis, requires institutional support.

Luckily, building connections and fostering collaborations is what Memorial’s Harris Centre and its senior research associates are all about.

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