ResearChats offer welcoming space for brainstorming and collaboration every Friday from noon to 1 p.m. at the Yukon College

It’s noon on a Friday and an unlikely group of Yukoners gather in a classroom at Yukon College. They’ve brought their lunches and their big ideas.

ResearChats, devised by Northern Studies Instructor Amanda Graham and Chemistry Instructor Ernie Prokopchuk, are weekly opportunities for researchers from all disciplines to share ideas and learn from one another. They happen on Fridays from noon to 1 p.m., and everybody is invited to attend.

Each week’s Chat has a loose theme — such as the importance of listening or the minor art of asking for money — and leaves plenty of time for conversation.

“It’s a low-stakes, friendly way for people to come in and bounce ideas around,” Graham said. “Originally, we thought about the Chats as a kind of speed-dating event, where we can share ideas, see if research interests overlap and maybe people can work together.”

The Chats started in September 2014, with the launch of the Yukon College Research Fund, a $100,000 annual fund for student, faculty and staff research projects. The Chats and the fund support each other, but they exist separately.

“The fund gives people a chance to try things that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise have the space to do,” Prokopchuk said. “There are basic guidelines and then there’s some leeway.”

The Yukon College Research Fund is available for things that may not fit under the guidelines of any other fund. And it sees a wide range of applications from all corners of university research. Things like practical research on whether robot vacuums could be used for cleaning in the College, cultural research on the history of octopus bags and a project that looked at reducing bear attractants at Cogden Creek Campground.

Graham is a strong proponent of the Chats because she has a longstanding interest in promoting northern research. In fact, Graham was the first graduate of the College’s Northern Studies program in 1988.

At that point, she was studying under Aron Senkpiel, Yukon College’s founding dean of Arts and Science, and an important figure in northern post-secondary education and in the development of the College.

Throughout the 1980s Senkpiel worked to expand the research potential of the North, the Yukon, and the College. He was integral to the development of the Northern Research Institute and Canada’s contribution to the University of the Arctic, and he was also — with Norm Easton and Ken Coates — a founding editor of The Northern Review, an academic multidisciplinary journal exploring human experience in the Circumpolar North that still publishes twice a year at the College.

“Right from the beginning Aron had a vision,” Graham said. “He said the College was going to be a university in 30 years, and that we would create a scholarly capacity for ourselves, and he was bang on.”

Meanwhile Prokopchuk is interested in lowering the barriers to entering research. Bringing together diverse experiences and points of view in situations like the ResearChats fosters innovation and creates a welcoming space for new ideas and collaborations, he said. It benefits all involved.

Prokopchuk grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario and was inspired by a great chemistry teacher he had in high school. He went on to earn his PhD in Chemistry from the University of Western Ontario, and worked for seven years at the University of Winnipeg, before applying for a job as a chemistry instructor at Yukon College and coming North.

“The publish-or-perish attitude chased me out of larger universities, and I don’t want to see us become that,” Prokopchuk says. “It’s a competitive, destructive atmosphere.”

At Yukon College, Prokopchuk has the opportunity to explore and to experiment in his classes. Recently, he has been investigating the potential to make biofuels, such as ethanol, out of fireweed.

“I’m a huge fan of small schools — I think there’s more opportunity when students are in a class of 10 or 20, rather than 500,” Prokopchuk said. “Up here I can focus on the students and I get the fun of trying something new without the stress of having to publish before I get kicked to the curb.”

ResearChats are open to members of the Yukon College community, visiting scholars, and Yukon’s research community at large.

Find out more information by signing up to receive email updates at ResearchInfo@YukonCollege.yk.ca.

Amanda Graham also posts to a Twitter feed at @researchatyc.