Blog Post

Expert Spotlight: Mary R. Brooks

Mary R. Brooks is a renowned transportation expert with a keen interest in global supply chain management and a lifelong passion for the world of shipping and ports. In 2015, Dr. Brooks accepted the position of Chair of the Council of Canadian Academies’ Expert Panel on the Social and Economic Value of Commercial Marine Shipping in Canada. She also serves on the CCA’s Steering Committee on Risks of Marine Shipping in Canadian Waters. If that weren’t enough, Dr. Brooks is Professor Emerita in Dalhousie’s Faculty of Management, Editor of Elsevier’s Research in Transportation Business and Management, and Vice-Chair of the Marine Board for the U.S. National Academies, among other endeavours.

Q: The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) is pleased to have you as the Chair for the Expert Panel on the Social and Economic Value of Commercial Marine Shipping in Canada, and as a member of the Workshop Steering Committee on the Risks of Marine Shipping. What appealed to you about volunteering with the CCA?

A: It was an honour for me to be asked to chair this Panel. The Council of Canadian Academies is held in extremely high regard within the Canadian scholarly community and produces sound research that meets international standards. I was previously asked to serve on the steering committee for the Workshop Expert Panel on the Risks of Marine Shipping in Canadian Waters, and I realized that the work would be done on a scientific basis, and that conclusions would only be drawn on evidence collected. Peer review is an important component of scholarly research and so this realization made me comfortable with accepting the role as Chair.

Q: As the Chair of the Expert Panel on the Social and Economic Value of Commercial Marine Shipping in Canada, what do you believe to be the value of evidence-based assessments?

A: It’s really important to me that research I participate in or support not be founded on opinion but on a scientific process, with methodologies explored and chosen carefully to match the objectives of the research, and with findings that would be the same as those drawn by other experts if presented with the same evidence.

Q: Do you have any reflections on the expert panel process?

A: I am familiar with the expert panel process in informing public policy. I now serve as Vice Chair of the Marine Board of the U.S. National Academies, and its most important role is to identify sponsors and husband expert opinion resources in order to ensure that marine shipping and port science is conducted in a methodologically sound way and is subject to peer review. The expert panel process of the Council of Canadian Academies is a similar one, and focuses on tackling tough challenges for Canada by securing the best scientific evidence to inform citizens and to support public policy decision-making.

Q: You’ve had an interesting and impressive career in teaching and researching transportation and global supply chain management. What attracted you to your field?

A: To be blunt, in the 1970s, my experience was that women were not particularly welcome in many business fields, and my Masters degree in international business and finance was not the door-opener I expected. I was unable to find a job in my field so I turned to consulting, and was pleased when my former professor and mentor, Sir Graham Day, identified a client for me who needed some transportation research reviewed, as he thought it was flawed. As I had taken one course in transportation at university, I was also hired by Professor Day to assist with a study of container traffic at three Canadian ports. No one had identified what was being imported or exported by container at this time. By the end of these two projects I was hooked, had a PhD topic I was passionate about, and was on the path to a university career. So one could say I came in through the back door, and have embraced this career redirection.

Q: Can you share one or two career highlights?

A: I can’t think of just one or two. It seems to me that every time I think I’ve reached the peak, another one comes into view. It’s like walking up a mountain; you know that you’re headed towards the top and you think it’s just ahead of you, but every time you come around a corner in the path, it seems that you’re not much closer but you know you have made progress. I was delighted to have been granted a Fulbright Scholarship in 2005, to be chosen as a top professor by my students in the same year, and to have been awarded a Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women in 2006. Was that the peak? Then I was asked by the OECD’s International Transport Forum to serve as chair on two of its expert panels, one on Port Competition and Hinterland Connections in Paris in 2008 and another on Port Investments and Container Shipping in Santiago in 2013. I was also delighted to be given the opportunity to act as a rapporteur at the OECD Transport Ministerial in Leipzig in 2009. I still feel like there are more challenges to come with the Marine Board and this CCA honour.

Q: Given that you are probably reading a lot of things related to the marine shipping assessment, I’m wondering if there’s anything you are reading for fun right now and why?

A: I read very little non-fiction, except for work. I like two kinds of fiction — mystery and historical fiction. Mysteries are just pure escapism; I’m currently reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and I can’t put it down. I’ve always been a travel junkie, and so historical fiction gives me an alternate lens through which to see the world; the best book I’ve read in the past year is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to add that I didn’t touch on?

A: Canadian public policy research right now is at a crossroads. Most science in Canada has taken a funding hit, with many scholars subject to a “publish or perish” situation that rewards quantity over quality. Plagiarism in scholarly publications is on the rise, and political and corporate interference is affecting some scientific sectors. Therefore I feel it is imperative to combat these challenges by making sure good questions are asked and quality research like that done by the CCA is supported.

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