Gail Sherson is one of many successful Pulp and Paper Centre Alumni. Over the years, Gail continued to be a big supporter of the Centre, sitting on the Advisory Board of the Advanced Papermaking Initiative as well as representing FPInnovations on the Energy Reduction in Mechanical Pulping Steering Committee. Gail recently retired from FPInnovations as the Research Manager of Market Pulp so we caught up with her to gain some insight into her successful career and experience in the forestry industry.
Give us your career story in a nutshell. We’d love to hear what brought you to where you are now.
From high school days, I knew my interest was in applied science, but was not aware of career choices such as engineering. It was through working at a local pulp mill where I was living in New Zealand that I learned about chemical engineers and what they do. A decade later, after moving to Canada and working for some years at MacMillan Bloedel Research in Vancouver, I had the opportunity to attend UBC, completing my degree in Chemical Engineering followed by a Master’s degree in Pulp and Paper Engineering. These two degrees fueled my continued interest in pulp and paper manufacturing, technology development and innovation and from there, I had the privilege of working for the bulk of my career in the mills or technology centres of several pulp and paper companies in Canada, New Zealand and the USA. Nine years ago, I returned to Vancouver, managing research programs and regional initiatives for FPInnovations.
The partnerships and initiatives you lead must have social as well as strategic business goals. How do you work to balance these and make sure both are achieved?
It is certainly important to understand the broader impacts of projects, and to strive for benefits for all key stakeholders. Fortunately, when it comes to innovation in Canada’s forest sector, social and business goals are often aligned, especially with the emphasis on sustainable forestry, improved environmental performance and supplying global markets with products from a renewable resource. One of my personal motivators in leading programs and initiatives aimed at improving the economic performance of Canada’s Forest Sector, is knowing how important this sector is to Canada’s social well-being. For example, forest sector direct and indirect jobs are particularly important in sustaining rural communities.
Do you think there are benefits for industry to partner with academia to tackle challenging problems?
One of the big benefits is being able to bring specific expertise and scientific disciplines suited to solving a particular challenge. A good example of this is the UBC-led research program on energy reduction in mechanical pulping, bringing together industry and academia to address one of the biggest challenges facing mechanical pulp mills – the high and increasing cost of electricity. When it comes to transformation of Canada’s forest sector, universities play a key role in discovery and early-stage development of game-changing technologies such as cellulose nanocrystals (CNC). At the same time, the value of training the future technical and business leaders for the sector cannot be underestimated, particularly with the complexity added by increased product diversification in the pulp and paper sector.